Countering my own Earth Day rant

It’s Earth Day, 2017. This morning, I felt like writing a rant about the things we’ve done to fuck up this beloved planet of ours, and to complain about the egomaniacal, thing-filled greed that fuels the raping and pillaging of Planet Earth and the butchering of its wild animals, the slow execution of our reef systems, and the rampant willful ignorance that paralyses a government from acting to save ourselves from ourselves.

This will continue for as long as corporations keep the heroin needle of constant consumption in our arms, necessitating individually wrapped everything; ubiquitous use of convenient, single-use plastic bottles and wrappers and bags and cups; easy, convenient, processed consumables, disguised as food, laced with deforesting palm oil; absurdly low gas prices, “disposable” electronics, a government-subsidized diabetes epidemic, funded in part by a corn syrup industry and a PAC-funded government denial of the merits of real food. Corporate pockets will get deeper in direct correlation with the width of our waistlines; they will grow richer in inverse proportion to the level of natural resources remaining; they will get more resolute and change their doublespeak as our majestic wildlife, our tropical fauna, dwindles and fades into mere memory… paradise paved to put up a parking lot (or office park or housing tract), as it were; they will point fingers as coral reefs bleach, then die, and watch as the base of our planet’s ecosystem fails in an ignorant dismissal of science at all costs.

I wanted to rant about all this, but then got sidetracked by a quest for beauty this afternoon. A self-posed question of what I love about Planet Earth. What have I seen that has taken my breath away? If the only will or want I can control is my own: what can I share that might change someone else’s?

So on this Earth Day, I share some photos of the things on Planet Earth I’ve seen in my near half-century, as ocean temperatures rise and carbon levels increase and sugar-induced disease becomes endemic; these are the things that give me pause every day to stop and appreciate the Wonder that is inherent in this magnificent ball of rock that we inhabit, for as long as she will have us.

Happy Earth Day 2017.

Sardegna: ultima parte

[prima parte]   [seconda parte]   [terza parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

Final notes, in which we learn lessons on what to pack, proper hiking footwear and tourist attractions to perhaps avoid. Holiday ends on a high note, as much adrenaline as spirits.

Summit summited, the next day we venture out to ride mountain bikes to a secluded beach, attainable only via boat or trail, Cala Sisine. We rent bikes from the local shop (I’m giddy with excitement to have been loaned a gorgeous carbon fiber Giant that I find out is the owner’s personal ride), and I’ve brought my bike shoes from home. I’ve not been off-road on a mountain bike in ages, but as they say, it’s just like riding a bike…

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Internet photo © www.antoniofancello.it

We park at what we deem a good starting point, 10 or so km from the beach. It’s crumbly, tractionless fire road and though not that technical, it’s hard going because you have to pay keen attention to the rocks and the ruts, as the ground shifts under your tires. We’re not 3km in, and the (elephant-headed?) gods of cosmic mischief are clearly not done with us: C’s chain breaks as we get to the top of a gnarly hill. Luckily we’ve landed in front of a compound of sorts, and the owner is at home. Less luckily, he only speaks Sard (closest to Latin, they say). Through pantomime and greasy-fingered hand gestures, we determine that his tools will not help the situation, nor will the chain tool I left at home, back in the US (because of course they’ll have one at the bike shop in Sardinia and why do I need to pack that?). So it’s a limp back to the car and back to the bike shop for repairs. We acquire a chain tool (that of course we won’t need now that we have it), just in case. After a calculated stop for grilled squid for lunch, we set out to finish what we’ve started.

Consulting Google Maps (2nd mishap of the day if one is keeping track), we are directed to Golgo the restaurant, instead of Golgo the trailhead (which, we were to later find out is 17km down the road). But we don’t know that we’re in the wrong spot until we bike down to the semi-crowded parking lot for Cala Goloritzè (see map above: exchanging looks of “how did we arrive here?”) and see that a) we’ve arrived where we didn’t expect and b) it’s clearly a trekking trail. Bikes are locked in the car, and – even though today was not supposed to be a hiking day – we decide to hike the 3km (yeah, right!) down to this famous landmark.

Aside: I am wearing my mountain bike shoes, and the only other shoes in my bag are flip flops. These are trail-hardy shoes with old but decent cleats. I decide that the Sidis will be a better choice than the flip flops.

I send C ahead, as he is better equipped for the trail in his running shoes (I’m also sure he’s needing to vent some of the pent-up frustration in the day’s mishaps thus far), and it takes me at least an hour and a half to reach the beach. By which time, I have slipped, stumbled and sure I’ve nearly died no less than 6 times. When I get there I realise that the soles of my Sidis have been chewed away by the carnivorous volcanic rock, and as such I’ve essentially been walking down a treacherous loose, rocky trail on plastic and metal. Trail teaching of the day: do not hike in MTB shoes.

I’m hot, tired and grumpy when I (AT LAST!) reach the beach (and my warmly smiling companion; or maybe he’s just feeling sorry for me…). There are too many tourists here, I decide, even though this is one of the iconic Sardinian sites to see and it’s not particularly unexpected. The water soon washes away my mood and we swim out towards the famed arch of Cala Goloritzè.

The slog back up from sea level is surprisingly easier, even in flip flops. Trail lesson #2: don’t hike in flip flops either. Adventure points earned (total of 10km MTB, 8+km unexpected and footwear-impaired hiking, seeing iconic sights), smiles return, gorgeous Sardinian seafood for dinner and all is well in the world (or at least, for now, in our little corner of it).


Un ultimo giorno…

On the last day of adventuring, we are determined to a) not find mishap (or let it find us) and b) find Cala Sisine.

20160924_100947Bikes, check. Tools, check. Maps, check(ed!). Today is mountain biking for real. We drive the winding mountain road to our starting point; a desolate spot where, though there are trail signs, there are no signs of other adventurers. We’re not sure whether or not this is a good sign.

The trails are wide fire roads. It’s crumbly, tricky and windy doubletrack with rock crunching under our tires and jaw-dropping rock formations on each side. The landscape reminds me of the American West as much as it does Kauai, but the slight hint of salt in the pristine air and the almost-metallic sound of the volcanic rock under our tires reminds me that we’re somewhere otherworldly. This is possibly the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever ridden and with each turn is another photo opp, though the photos cannot do it justice. Each climb is rewarded with a tricky downhill, and the kilometers roll away as we reach the spiaggia. Riding a bike always makes me feel like a kid again, no matter if it’s down the block or down a gorgeous trail in a foreign land. We arrive at Cala Sisine, giant smiles on our faces, and are rewarded with pristine, virtually empty beach. One or two boats moored offshore, and a guy climbing a cliff with a selfie stick, preparing to jump. Gah!

We arrive, glad to have no mishaps to recount, and loll on the beach, swim in the bright blue sea and find ourselves the only ones here for the better part of an hour. Bliss, until a tourist boat arrives to deposit its load… and at that it’s our cue to make the trip back. C humming Indiana Jones music as we maneuver the Baunei backroads, wishing we had a 4×4 instead of the rental Fiat (fully-insured except for the tires…we needed to be a little careful, as Ganesh has yet to rear his elephant’s head today).

There was bistecca di cavallo on the menu at dinner (where it remained, at least at our table). Calamari, spaghetti vongole and pulpo on the plates. Red Sardinian wine in the glasses. Adventure Points earned today, then redeemed for a final gelato at dessert.

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I’m going to mix metaphors or something here by introducing the Sanskrit word sri (shree). It means simple, radiant, natural beauty. And for all the obstacles tossed, rolled, flung in our paths this week, the thing that sparkled high and mighty above all was the infinite beauty, the sri, of this place. From the bluest blues of the Mediterranean Sea to the imposing peaks of the Sardinian mountains, graceful and strong as they contrast against the azure blue sky.

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View of Pedra Longa and one of my favourite photos of the trip

A final limoncello toast this night to birthdays, overcoming obstacles, laughing at mishaps, getting lost, finding the way, sore muscles (and Sardinian mussels), grilled calamari, local cheese, pane carasau, gelato in excess, musical goats, gorgeous panoramas (and gorges), the magical Med and future adventures…

[prima parte]   [seconda parte]   [terza parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

 

Sardegna: terza parte

[prima parte]    [seconda parte]   [ultima parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

Part III: In which we learn about the limitations of one American’s driver education, find the correct trail, reach the summit, lose the trail, use technology to find it again, begin the descent and get rescued by the Germans. In the process, we observe how small we really are in the grand scheme of things!

Il giorno seguente and all legs are really sore from our rambling, brambling adventure. Thus, day 2 was dedicated to kayaking. The Golfo di Orosei is dotted with coves, caverns and exquisite beaches, the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life. Excited to see the coast from the water, we drive up to Cala Gonone in search of kayaking adventure. It’s also my birthday, so that the day began with pressies from abroad didn’t hurt my mood one bit.

Kayaks procured, we’re in the water after an early lunch (seafood salad, octopus, bruschetta – the real stuff – a girl could get used to this Mediterranean food!). We kayak down the coast, ducking into the time- and water-swept rock formations that make up this amazing coastline. One beach (Cala Fuili) is virtually empty… only accessible by water, and I am sure this is where they take those surreal photos you see in travel magazines. Each time we maneuver around a curve in the coastline, the view is more breathtaking than the last. Our final point of interest is Grotte del Bue Marino, a giant cave set into the shoreline. We only scratch the surface here, as the walkways into the grotto were closed.

It’s at about this point that C’s eyes begin to react badly to the combination of glaring sun and salty Mediterranean Sea, so we turn back, indulge in a gelato (we’ve earned it for having done a 10km kayak and having a birthday to celebrate) and head home.

I interject here that, although three people have attempted to teach me over the years, I have still not mastered the art of driving a standard. We’re in Italy, on a mountainous island with steep, windy, hairpin-turn roads. C’s eyes do not improve. As life and luck would have it, my stick shift skills have not either. So our options unfold as a) camp out on the side of the road in our rental car, b) borrow a driver from a passing vehicle going our way or c) slog it out. One or two attempts in borrowing a driver result in some really strange looks, careful retreat by some tourists and a possible blow jobbus interruptus (which is Swedish and/or Latin for “we almost stopped a ‘parked’ car to ask for a ride” then decided we best not). Staying put does not suit either of us.

The elephant is blamed again.

So we begin the slog (I interject again here again to praise not only the driving skills of my partner in crime but his tenacity and a sense of something akin to humour, even under duress); slow and steady winning the day, with the prize coming in the form of a limoncello nightcap on the most fabulously memorable birthday in recent history (grazie ancora, mio caro amico).


 

Day 3 of avventura: we decide to find the summitand so we start out from Pedra Longa towards Punta Giradili.

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Punta Giradili trail map; via Rother Walking Guide

When you’re walking these trails, there is a faint resonance of goat bells and bleating in the air. Sound carries in the quiet sky; goat chatter bouncing off volcanic rock, mingling with the clonking of their bells to make a sort-of sporadic background music suggestive of wind chimes.

Today, we’ve consulted two guide books and an actual expert (Riki, from The Lemon House), who had shown us the ridge we were supposed to be on last time. And so, avoiding the bramble experience of the other day, we stick to the trail and as we ascend – this time on the right track – we are awestruck at the landscape (and the views) that unfold around us. This is some of the most magical terrain either of us has ever hiked. Akin to looking into a star-laden night sky or staring into the deep blue sea at 25 meters, the sheer scale of the cliffs we’re ascending gives perspective on one’s place in the Universe. Just WOW.

By now, we’ve made the summit, exchanged high-fives and started for the exit, as it were. But in our eagerness to explore the razor-sharp moonscape that is Punta Giradili, we’ve lost the trail again in the flat light against the lava rock. Time spent backtracking to where we should have been: 1 hour. Cheers for Garmin to lead us in the right direction: 3.

There’s a rock-ridden fire road that wends its way down from the summit to the back side of the mountain and into the towns below. We trek onward and downward, and 2 or 3km on (feet screaming, sun blazing), we agree that this is not much fun. Seeing as the car is back at Pedra Longa, a 5-9km slog from where we are (depending on whose sign/directions you dare consult), a ride would be good at this point. We’ve already gone about 17km, so we decide to hitchhike.

I’m hopeful when (within minutes) a tourist bus passes, slows and finally stops (there must have been a vote in those seconds, “do we pick up these sweaty strangers or non?”). As we board, the first question is, “sprechen sie Deutsch?” I’m grateful for other countries’ language requirements (and that I have a multilingual companion), the answer is “ja.” Less optimistic when they ask “where are you from?” and C says, I’m from Sweden (nods and smiles all around); L’s from the US (a collective groan issues forth). Chatter continues, however, and they drop us at a point “3km” (more like 4.5) from the car. The finish line is at last in sight as Pedra Longa comes into view.

Today we earn Adventure Points for a 21+ km hike, a found trail, hitchhiking, and being rescued from a desolate road by a busload of German tourists. C earns bonus points for using Garmin to get us back on-trail and speaking near-flawless Deutsch (somehow even bringing in Ewoks into the conversation).

Grilled squid and gelato rule the evening as we plan giorno quattro.

[prima parte]    [seconda parte]   [ultima parte]

[Click Here for ChrisGoja’s Sardinia travelogue]

 

Sardegna: seconda parte (let’s go exploring!)

[prima parte]   [terza parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

The trip from Cagliari to Lotzorai takes about 2 hours. And our ride is on windy, but extremely well-paved roads, not without the occasional “sorry, we’ve closed this highway and you’ll have to trust Google Maps to get you to where you need to be, grazie” (without, however, the asterisk in direction that says Google Maps is only marginally reliable in these parts).

Eventually we make it to The Lemon House B&B, haven for outdoor adventurers (and those who practice what Scandinavians call friluftsliv), catering more specifically to the climbing/hiking/trekking/biking set. It’s simple accommodation but it works; and we’re greeted by Riki (innkeeper), and a bottle of local white.

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Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson

I’ve met up with Chris, my favourite co-adventurer. Except for points made on a map some weeks ago, we’re going into this trip rather blindly and are open to whatever hills, trails, rocks, beaches, etc. we can tackle in a week. C is like Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes fame. His motto is “let’s go exploring” (though he’s Swedish, so I suppose it would be something more on the order of “låt oss gå på upptäcktsfärd!”). I expect I’ll need a few days to recuperate when I return home.

Accounting for travel, we have exactly 5 days to fill to the (adventure-laden) brim

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From “Sardinia: 63 Selected Coastal and Mountain Walks” (Rother Walking Guide)

Day 1 is hiking. So we set off to hike from Santa Maria Navarese to Pedra Longa and aim to get to the summit of Punta Giradili (this hike, I later discover, is part of the first stage of the infamous Selvaggio Blu trek). I’ll start with the caveat that Sardinian marked distances are somewhat approximate; there are few to no trail markers to indicate key intersections; the trail guidebook we’re using was seemingly written for those who have actually hiked here before; and, as stated above, Google Maps is doing some guesswork of its own. As such, we set off. The promised spectacular views did not disappoint. Ever. Nor did the “easy” part of the trail.

At some point, while looking at the aforementioned views, goats, wild pigs and the interesting things (like the shepherd hut built into the cliffside) that would have made fantastic landmarks (better, say, than the “you’ll arrive at a steep uphill slog” printed in the guidebook), we veered off-trail. We were knee-deep (as it were) into the “difficult” section of the route, and since the scrub brush was alternately razor-sharp pricker bushes and fragrant wild rosemary, at least our shredded legs smelled nice.

So after 6 hours or so, with afternoon waning and legs smarting unsmartly, we decided to abort the quest for the summit, scrabbled our way back down to better-known parts and rewarded ourselves with skinnydipping in the Mediterranean Sea (what sounds much easier in print was an effort that took nearly 3 hours).

While C blames the mishaps and misadventures of the day on my patron saint of sorts, Ganesha, elephant-headed Hindu god of new beginnings and destroyer of obstacles (who is also known to place them in our paths to make sure we’re paying attention), on this day we had logged 8+ hours and 20+km (it was not fast going), toes blistered, legs sore and bloodied; at least we were still smiling.

Somewhere between the leg-chewing brambles and the Pedra Longa rocks from which we swam, C and I devised a system of Adventure Points to reward ourselves for our escapades and experiences. Today’s points: 50 for the hike out; 50 for surviving the leg-mangling; another 50 for making it off the mountain alive and still in daylight; and a final 50 for skinnydipping in the Med in the late afternoon shadows of Pedra Longa.

The ocean cures all.

[prima parte]   [terza parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

Sardinian Adventures: prima parte

[seconda parte]   [terza parte]   [ultima parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

Having chosen Sardinia on account of its high potential for grand adventure, I’ve arrived in Cagliari a day before my travelling companion to ward off jetlag and see the capital prior to heading north- and eastward, to Lotzorai, to begin the adventuring for real. And it’s there that I am to spend my birthday week, celebrating with fantastic company, food and outdoor adventure.

2016-09-18-22-08-07The planets align and one of my dearest friends is able to take the weekend and pop over to Cagliari for a short holiday (the downside of living in the Northeastern United States is that a weekend trip to a different country with spectacular food and centuries-old history is not particularly feasible). Thus, I get to spend my first night here with a friend who not only speaks fluent Italian, but knows this island well. Let the celebrations begin.

By night, Cagliari reminds me of a medieval relic, caught somewhere in the centuries between the lure of modernity and its roots in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, where Cagliari housed a tribunal. I’m even staying at a guesthouse with a history (Casa Mundula): it was once a convent (if the walls could talk!!). I’m instantly enamoured with the grand doorways set into the old stone walls that make up the steep and windy streets.

Sardinia is a large exporter of Pecorino cheese and claims fame to myriad other specialità. And so, we’re off to taste the local fare and in the process hunt down some of Sardinia’s famed flatbread, pane carasau. Though the restaurant does not serve pane carasau (this is a disgrace, I’m told), the grilled pecorino sardo (a slab of sheep romano, grilled just so: the exterior is slightly browned and the inside is warm but not melty), grilled calamari, melanzana or Sa Fregula (a small pasta that reminded me of Israeli couscous but better) do not disappoint. Nor does the gelato (which would factor highly in the days to come).

2016-09-19-10-45-16By day, the city comes alive and its Marina district, in the South of the city (where I’m staying), opens itself to international trade and tourism (here’s where both the tourist and cargo ships dock); luckily I’ve not arrived on a cruise ship day, so do not have to compete with the swarms of tourists to see the city.

Throughout its history, Sardinia has been invaded by many regimes (it’s conveniently located between Italy and North Africa and was considered an ideal strategic base amidst the trading routes), and as such a fortress was built above what would become the marina district. There are three lookout towers in the fortress, and it’s said that the Torre dell’Elefante has the best view of the city, so I set out to do that.

As I climb the streets of this old wood and stone fortress-cum-city (the village above the Marina is aptly named Castello), I can see the mountains looming in the distance, as well the points at which they seem to melt into the alluring (and methinks magical) Mediterranean Sea.

Up at these heights, you can see for miles, perhaps imagine the sounds and smells of ancient goings-on. I encounter only a smattering of tourists, some shop owners and students. I am, to my amusement, propositioned by a charming and handsome Italian man sitting at an outdoor café. In an effort to avoid doubling back across his path (I am to meet my intended handsome European man in a matter of hours, and I feel this tête-à-tête would be in poor taste), I miss the street on which Torre dell’Elefante sits, get a bit turned about, and climb even farther uphill than planned. A fortunate bend in the road, perhaps, because the view up here is stunning.

I finally wind my way about the cobblestone streets and find the Torre dell’Elephante and make the ascent. 6 flights of old wooden ladders and stairs open to a fantastic view of the city. When I come down, I decide to go back up to the Torre di San Pancrazio to compare views (Elephants win the day, and will become a theme of the week to boot!).

After climbing towers and cobbles, I make my way back down to sea level to prepare for the next part of the journey. I acquire some of the local cheese, pane carasau and (in ridiculously broken Italian) also procure focaccia, pomodori, mozzarella, prosciutto crudo and other snacks from a local shop and I’m off to the airport to meet my co-conspirator/adventurer for the drive up the coast to Lotzorai, where we will spend the week hiking biking and exploring the Sardinian mountains of the Golfo di Orosei region.

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[seconda parte]   [terza parte]   [ultima parte]   [chrisgoja parte]

Saba tales: in which I find things to do on dry land

Feeling a bit wonky and also slightly water-logged, I opt for a day on dry land. The tropical weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate, repeating its sun-rain-fog-sun-fog-rain rhythm as a fog swoops down from Mt. Scenery and envelops Windward Side. The town has two markets, a handful of restaurants and bars, a bakery, a couple of dive shops and a few other random places to spend a tourist (US$) dollar. I find a quick brekkie at the bakery in town, the Bizzy Bee (“flour, flour” on their sign). From their Christmas stollen (shared on the boat with my new diving friends Christmas Day) to the almond cookie I had on the trail (filled with marzipan!!!), their stuff is fabulous! Sated, I embark on the day’s mission: summit Mt. Scenery, the highest point in the Kingdom of The Netherlands.

20151228_105755In 1967, a stairway comprising 1064 steps was built, leading up to the “Elfin Forest” at the top of this dormant volcano. A somewhat treacherous (mossy and steep) climb through the rainforest and around a private residence which reminded me of something like a tropical Deliverance (“take no photos, please respect” signs clearly posted), and then rising through the elephant ear and mountain palm, tropical flowers and trees. The trailside was teeming with butterflies: little white ones, black and yellow-striped and some even a vibrant orange. The mosses and ferns truly made the setting look like a scene from Grimm’s.

With a fog-ensconced trail, I was not optimistic of seeing much besides treetops and tropical mist when I (finally) reached the summit. And so, an hour after leaving the trail shop, I did, in fact, land at the top of Mt. Scenery; greeted by a friendly mountain chicken and a dense blanket of cool fog (which was actually quite refreshing after that tricky ascent). And so, as Samuel Clemens said about the weather in New England, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Or 15, in my case. For the wait, I was rewarded with a parting of the clouds as it were: a brilliant view of Saba, from the Airport over to The Bottom, materialised in front of my eyes. Blue skies, lush hills, the charming red-roofed buildings in Windward Side and a shining Caribbean sea below. I stayed until the fog returned, its little cat feet guiding my way down the mountain once again.

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Down is harder than up on the moss- and jungle mist-covered slick steps, and I’m certain a mountain troll or elf is giggling at me from behind the elephant ear as I slip and teeter down the trail. I have seen hummingbirds and butterflies and lizards and the myriad rainforest flora. I land back at the trail center…mission: accomplished.

Lunch is a spectacular grouper sandwich at Scout’s Place. As I order, I hesitate – I have a moral dilemma with grouper. I love it but at the same time it is a scarce fish in most parts because of overfishing and poorly-designated marine reserves. But in pristine waters like this, with few fishermen on the island, the catch is both hand-reeled and controlled. So it’s doubly cool when the chef can show you a picture of the fish you’re eating, and more than likely introduce you to the fisherman.

2015-12-23 10.38.06The afternoon is rounded out with a siesta on my little terrace, views of Mt. Scenery (partially enveloped in its signature fog) in the distance; an ear out for the giant iguana thrashing about in the trees and the hummingbirds with their miniature jet fighter trajectories. Background din is the melange of goats from down the hill, birdsong, roosters and an occasional barking dog. The sun is looming lower in the sky and the peeper frogs (Coquee) are on deck to begin their nightly chorus more.

Hiking and Peeping New Hampshire

I’ve spent the last week as tourist in New England. As the carpet of nearing-peak fall colour unfurls in the White Mountains’ valleys, this week I relinquish thoughts that one must go far and wide to properly travel. It’s like touristing in my backyard: open-eyed, wondrous and ready for whatever nature (and New Hampshire) has in store…

Fall cooperates fully, with seasonably-warm days and threats of hurricane and cool, wet weather all but an afterthought. Nature’s annual fireworks show begins in earnest on the drive along New Hampshire’s scenic Kancamagus Highway, as we stop intermittently (as one does) for photo opps with nature.

My friend has arrived from Europe to tick off an item on his bucket list: fall hiking on the Appalachian Trail. First stop, the Twinway Trail via the Zealand Trail and the AMC’s Zealand Falls hutDSC_2146Views from the lookout over Whitewall Brook towards Whitewall Mountain are nothing short of show-stopping (Mt. Washington making a cameo appearance in the far background, over my shoulder…actually I don’t think it even snuck into this picture), and we realise this is just the hors d’oeuvres for our big hike tomorrow: the Franconia Ridge. Looking out over these purple (green, red and orange) mountain majesties, it’s no wonder my hiking partner keeps breaking into assorted patriotic tunes as background music to the rhythmic sound of boots on rock (and f-bombs exclaiming the occasional mis-step). The only irony is that he hails from some distance across the pond.

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Franconia Ridge: I’ve done this hike before, but not in something on the order of 15 years. It’s a rocky, bouldery, scraggly above treeline hike that’s accessed by the sweet-sounding Falling Waters Trail. I say sweet because for all its scenic splendor, the trail traverses active waterfalls and ascends a steep and treacherous boulder-laden trail that teases you at every corner (“we’re almost at treeline…really…just 1km to go…hehehe”). So just when your quads are screaming, “uncle” and you’ve gotten one foot stuck beneath the other in a bit of rock (and just by telling said hiking partner, will never live that admission down) there’s just a little bit more to climb.

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The above-treeline views are more the reward than are the (now-squashed) sandwiches we’ve packed for lunch. But our revelry is short-lived because the fog rolls in and its little cat feet kick our butts into gear to move along the trail, bagging Little Haystack (4760ft), Mt. Lincoln (5089ft) and Mt. Lafayette (5260ft) in the process. There’s something deeply satisfying about both checking 4000-footers off a “did that” list and feeling that you did that with your own steam. Yay, us!

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DSC_2223As if the descent might be easier than the ascent… We descend with the hope that the wisps of cloud and fog don’t follow us back into the trees and morph into forest trolls. Quads steeled for the endeavour, we march onward, downward and into the forest via the AMC Greenleaf Hut and the Greenleaf Trail. It’s all downhill from here, though this particular downhill section also includes its gauntlet of slick granite and really gnarly boulderized and rooty outcroppings. Proceeding with caution and a smattering of hummed ballads (and Queen songs), we land back at the car feeling that way you do when you’ve used the human machine as intended.

Our third day of hiking was the much more relaxing, yet only slightly less bouldery, Arethusa Falls trail to Frankenstein Cliff. As if the highest/biggest/best views thing could be outdone with each subsequent day, it delivered as promised: tallest waterfall in New Hampshire, jaw-dropping views from the cliff and an opportunity to walk along the tallest railway trestle in NH. By suggestion, I’m bringing back the term “neat-o!”

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Leaf-peeping in New England is somewhat a sport, with prognosticators forecasting the best weeks to catch peak foliage months in advance. Reality dictates that you get what you get, though we’re more than giddy to have caught New Hampshire on a good week, the right side of peak.

Another thing you don’t much do when you’re home: hire a guide. So in the tourist spirit, we hired a climbing instructor for the day from IME (best climbing store in the region), and set off to scale some rock and help me surmount a dread-fear of multi-pitch climbs.

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And so, looking from the top of the first climb, seeing Mt. Washington and the butt-crack of Huntington Ravine, I felt small but strong; held firmly by my faithful belayer and the trusty ropes and harness. The 2nd pitch was not nearly as daunting as expected (though the bruises on my legs from gripping razor-sharp rock may tell a different tale), and from something on the order of 100 feet from where my feet left the ground, the views and the feeling of being simultaneously surrounded by and part of nature were something there are not words in the English language to describe.

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While my version of travelling has little to do with seeing crowded attractions or doing the mainstream, we surely partook in our share of cider donuts (a seasonal New England delicacy), wandered in and out of gift shops and even contemplated taking the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington before nixing that idea in favor of a day of climbing across the way. Another hike to add to the next NH Adventure itinerary, I reckon…

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The ride home had us detour through Ogunquit, ME for lobsters at Barnacle Billy’s (because you have to!) and some outlet shopping in Kittery to dodge the inevitable raindrops. A good time was had by all as they say… And so the week ends with a local afternoon of people-watching in Salem as the witch-crazy flock here from all ends of the earth for their annual pilgrimage.

Next adventure will hopefully take me out of New England, but as adventures in one’s backyard – and adventures in general – go, it was pretty great.