I’m very excited that my piece “Hiking with Stonewall” has been published in the Sonderers Magazine. Check it out here: https://sonderers.com/spring-nature/hiking-with-stonewall
It was our final day of dogsledding. We rose early to feed the dogs before breakfast. At breakfast, we were joined by two deer at the birdfeeder, which was delightful. Breakfast with deer! Then it was time for more mushing.
This time my run was a little bit more exciting… As we left the yard, it was clear that one of the lead dogs wasn’t pulling so we switched up a wheel and lead dog. Nothing like stopping 20 yards from the start and having to hold on to the sled with dear life as the dogs were being switched. However, after a few minutes, the decision was made to switch them back! As we got closer to the end of the course, the dogs failed to heed a command of mine to go straight rather than go right. (The old course would go right so the dogs were used to that). We had to stop the sled, I had to hold on for dear might, as we pulled the team back on the right course! So it was definitely no run of the mill run. But it was still fun to be at the helm, watching the dogs gallop through the forest. I can see why people do this for 1000s of miles in the Iditarod and Yukon.
After our run, we helped set up the teams for the other guests before getting an early start on our drive home. We had a 7-8 hour drive back to Chicago since my friend and I both had work the next day.
We briefly stopped at Gronks, a fast food joint we passed on our way to Duluth. It is delightful ridiculous.
We decided to take a detour in Duluth since we were passing by. We first stopped at the Duluth Trading Company, a retail store that sells outdoors gear. When we parked in the nearby parking lot, I decided that my boot was bothering me. I felt like I was stepping on uneven surface. So in the lobby, I had to take off the boot and see what was up. That’s when 8-10 sunflower seeds fell out! We think a squirrel or some other rodent had stashed them there during the day. We could hear small rustling above us at night!
The Duluth Trading Company was fun especially after spending the weekend outside. It made me wonder what gear I could have used to keep myself warmer. We then decided to get a spot of lunch at a pizza place nearby; it was okay but it did the trick. As we walked down the main street back to the car, we passed the most amazing curious shop. It was an unending maze of treasures – I found a tiny t-rex fetish made of stone and a green glass top hat pencil holder. At the checkout desk, there were vending machines for shark teeth, gemstones, and antique coins!
As we drove down to Chicago, we decided to stop at various places on the way to break up the drive. We briefly got our photos taken at Gronk’s, a seemingly prehistoric themed eatery that had this giant arrow outside. Most of the drive was in Wisconsin itself. We stopped for pie at the Norske Nook that had 30+ pies, which was delightful.
At one gas station, I found the most ridiculous thing ever: a tiny knife shaped like an old timey gun. At this point we decided to have some fun with my husband at home. I texted him a succession of messages. The first was: “I bought a knife.” The second one was: “A squirrel used my boot to store sunflower seeds.” And the final one was “We’re looking for a liquor store.” His comment was “This thread is amazing.” We had stopped to find a gas station that sold cheese curds and New Glarus beer, a must on any trip to Wisconsin.
We got home close to 11pm after a delightful weekend.
That’s all for now! Posts are going to be a little sporadic for a few weeks as I work on some other projects. Just a reminder, I just launched my first Kickstarter for a new literary journal that I co-founded called the Antelope. So consider supporting it today: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1943130585/the-antelope
It was our full day of dogsledding! I woke up early 6 or so to the sounds of all 50+ dogs howling. There’s nothing quite like listening to that amazing sound while lying cocooned in bed.
Soon it was time to rise and begin the day. We had a lovely breakfast where I was transfixed again by the beautiful birds at the feeder. There was a chunk of meat that had been put out the day before in the hopes of attracting the bobcats…it was now gone! I also got this amazing photo of a blue jay. I’m still really proud of it!
Once breakfast was over, it was time to ride. I was very fortunate that I got to go in a sled pulled by 6 dogs. Most the rides we were on were only 4. It was a little faster. I could only imagine what it would have been like if there had been 16 dogs pulling that sleigh! Again, there’s the beautiful silence during the run, where you just heard the dogs running through the snow.
Again, I realized how much I loved working with the dogs themselves. I loved getting to know all the dogs as we harnessed them for runs or fluffed their hay in their tiny houses.
After lunch, it was time to take our learning to the next level. We were going to learn how to drive the dogs ourselves. This was an exciting and terrifying prospect. We had a tutorial before we went out. We learned the words to tell the dogs to turn left or right (ha or gee), or straight on. We were reminded to hold on to the sleigh for dear life. Don’t let go for any reason. We would have one of the experienced mushers in our sled so it wasn’t like we were going by ourselves.
It was brilliant. It was better than being a passenger. The thrill of being at the helm of a sleigh, seeing the dogs before you. Amazing. It was a good run, the dogs were responsive to my commands. We ran through the snowy environment. Not many photos since I was holding on for dear life. We stop on the trail to get photos but all of them showing me holding the sleigh and trying to distribute my weight on the brake and ice claw.
Then it was back to the yard to help others with the next runs. We also walked the younger dogs, which was surprisingly difficult. To walk them, we had to put on a harness…for ourselves instead of a handheld leash. I understood quickly that this was necessary. I walked one of the young males and boy, was he strong! He also got kinda annoyed with me that I wouldn’t go faster!
After we finished the runs and walking the dogs for the day, we took a stroll down the driveway back to the main road for about forty-minutes. We got to see a little of the surrounding area in this seemingly remote part of Minnesota. There were other houses nearby but 15-20 minute walk. We walked up the main road and noticed giant paw prints in the snow. There was no corresponding human prints. We think that they were wolf prints!
Before dinner, we enjoyed the sauna. I’m not much of a sauna person but I’ve gone by myself. It’s clearly a collective experience. Also, this was the way you bathed where we were staying. It was so much more enjoyable with people. To sit and sweat in the heat and then wash with cold water was really refreshing. We did try something very Finnish: a bunch of us ran from the sauna to roll in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was kinda melty and the area we were rolling was cover in pine needles…but it was fun nonetheless!
We ended the night listening to the tales of the Iditarod runner talking about her experiences. The best kind of bed times stories!
That’s all for now!
This past January, my friend and I went up to Minnesota to go dogsledding. Yes, dogsledding. We were going to a place about an hour fifteen away from Duluth. The weekend we had chosen turned out to be the inauguration/Women’s March. We didn’t want to cancel our plans (and lose our deposit) and felt that it might be a good respite from all the politics, if only for a little while.
We decided to drive up there through Wisconsin, which was the longest route through the state (diagonally). We actually were in Minnesota only for the last hour and half of the drive. I lived in Wisconsin for two years but had only really seen the Madison area so this was a new experience. It was about a 9-10 hour drive up and a longer one down as we decided to enjoy some of the offerings by the road. On the way up, we stopped at a few gas stations for obvious reasons. But the added bonus was that we found an amazing gas station on the way up – it had hats including a fake skunk hat, salsas in the shapes of cowboys and pirates, curious signs, and much more. It’s always a joy to wander around such places. (The skunk hat and pirate salsa came home with me; the latter was a gift for my husband.)
During our trip up, it was incredible to see how little snow there was. This isn’t surprising now given how Chicago got no snow in January and February. I recall the year in Madison when we had a blizzard three consecutive weekends in March. We did see some awesome wildlife on the way. At one point, we saw these stocky four legged creatures, all with collars, eating nearish to the road. We weren’t sure if they were female elk or moose but we think they may be moose given how bulky they were. I also saw two bald eagles enjoying road kill on the side of the road.
We arrived to our destination around noon. The area we were staying at was a forested area outside of Duluth. As we pulled up the driveway, we first encountered the dogs. They were on both sides of the road, each had their own little house. We pulled up to find another vehicle that was also filled with dogs. We soon learned that the owner had a friend visiting who brought 16 dogs with her; this lady had run the Iditarod 14 times. Absolutely amazing!
We put our things in the wooded cabin and helped out giving the dogs water before we headed to lunch. We learned that the owner had built our cabin! We put a mix of water and meat into each dog’s bowl, which was a nice way to say hello to all the dogs. Some were more approachable than others. The dining table was seated in front of big windows facing the bird feeder. What an astonishing place. So many birds including black capped chickadees, blue jays (!), and even grouse would eat there. It was a constant source of joy for me during our time there.
After lunch, we were going to learn how to harness the dogs and go out for our first ride. We learned the best way to put the dogs in the harness before every run. We learned there are lead dogs and wheel dogs; the former are at the front, and the others are at the back. If there were more than four dogs, the dogs behind the leads were point dogs. If there are more than 6, the additional dogs were the team dogs. We never went out with more than 6 dogs. It was important that you didn’t bring the dogs up to the sled until it was time. Also, you couldn’t walk or hop the dog through rival dog territory. And you had to watch to make sure the dogs don’t chew through their harnesses.
What was astonishing to me was the cacophony when we brought the harnesses out. Every dog went crazy. All 50 of them! All of them were basically saying, “Choose me. Choose me!”Then you would go to the assigned dog (there were also assignments for all runs), harness the dog up, always squirming, and then take the dog to the sled when you got the signal. It was honestly my favorite part of the weekend. I loved being with the dogs.
Once you hook the dog up, and all the other dogs were hooked up too, the sign would be made, and the sleds would be off. Suddenly, all the dogs were quiet. Night and day. Until about 20 seconds before the sleds came back to the yard. Astonishing.
I got to go first on a run. I was seated in the sled itself, crossed legged since sitting on my knees is hard. The job of the person on the sled is to help steer, so you have to lean in on curves. It was so quiet as we ran through the forest. Just the panting of the dogs and the sound of their feet in the snow. At one point, we stopped on the trail and I had to run to the driver’s side to keep the sled tethered. It’s important that you hold on the sled with both hands, with your foot on the brake and the other one on the ice clamp. Those dogs want to run. I could feel the power of them while holding for dear life on the sled. The big thing is to never let go, even if you lose your footing!
Then we returned to the yard to unharness the dogs and get ready for the next sled ride. We harnessed the dogs each time (so the maximum number of dogs could run). I made friends with Tillie, a sweet pup who liked her belly to be rubbed, and Tahti, who loved attention.
Afterwards, we had some spare time to go snowshoeing. I was excited since this is something I had never done. Sadly, this was not a task I really enjoyed. It may have been that the snowshoes weren’t as well fitting so it made the process more difficult. But I’m glad I have done it and am glad it was over.
Before dinner, we had to feed the dogs. Now, the place we were staying at was very off the grid. There was no plumbing, we had to use an outhouse, another first for me. There was a hand pump for water. Also, there was solar power but we had to use our headlamps when it became dark. We had light in the cabin we were staying at but we needed to conserve it as much as possible. There was wood fires in both our cabin and the main house. We had dinner amidst candlelight, another first for me. At the time of the dinner for the dogs, we had to use our headlamps since night had come. It was a little thrilling to be feeding them and navigating the icy snow to bring them their food. Also, due to the dark, our flashlights reflected in the tapetum lucidum in the dogs’ eyes. The tapetum lucidum helps with night vision. Deer also have it. So you could see the green glowing eyes of 50 dogs including those in the dog truck reflect back at you.
After dinner, we talked about dogsledding. I really relished hearing from the experience Iditarod musher’s experiences! Then it was off to bed. As we were heading off, we could hear all 50 dogs begin to howl. We were told that this is how they thanked us for feeding. The experience of 50 dogs howling was simply marvelous.
That’s all for now!
We woke up in Cambodia. What a wonderful feeling! Granted it was about 4 am since we had elected to see the sunrise over Siem Reap. We groggily got ready and met our driver at the appointed time. We still couldn’t see a tremendous amount of Siem Reap since it was dark. We first had to buy our tickets at a ticket area that was not near the Angkor Wat temple complex. It reminded me of Machu Picchu where you had to buy the tickets at the bottom of the mountain; you couldn’t buy them at the entrance to the park. We along with lots of other tourists waited in lines, got our photos taken for our tickets, and then trundled back into our modes of transportation.
Now, the light was beginning to rise; we could see a little bit more of buildings and trees. What a difference from Shanghai! No skyscrapers dotting the sky. The buildings were shorter and there was more vegetation. Then we approached the Angkor Wat complex. A large river or moat surrounded the temple complex.I learned that Angkor Wat refers both to the specific temple complex and the entire archaeological site. There are several temple complexes to explore in addition to the famous one.
Our driver parked us near the gates and we crossed the river, transfixed by the balustrades showing impressive nagas. We hurried to get to a good viewing spot for the sun to rise. We weren’t along; lots of tourists were also there to watch the event. We did some preliminary exploration but I was keen to find the right viewing place. We eventually found a section of the lawns in front to watch as the sun slowly rose up. I was actually not as blown away as I had been when I had seen the sunrise over Machu Picchu. It was only after the fact that I realized we were on the wrong side of the temple to see it light up.
Angkor Wat was impressive. It’s a series of temples that began to be built in the 12th century. They are still in use; we actually passed by several religious ceremonies. So it’s important to be respectful and dressed properly while you wander around. We were told that women should bring sweaters if they had bear arms; shawls were not sufficient. There are carvings all over the complex, showing gods and goddesses from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. There were lots of Apsaras, dancing female spirits. We headed towards the highest tower, where if you are dressed properly, you can climb to the top and get a great view of the entire area. It’s a steep climb up but well worth it.
At one point, we were looking out and I remarked, “Oh look. There are a bunch of cats wandering on the roofs.” To which my friend explained, “Those aren’t cats. Those are monkeys.” And she was right. There were monkey. I had been noticing the smell of what I thought was cat urine but it was actually monkey urine. These monkeys were actually a little frightening. We saw a few up close. One climbed up steps and growled at another person, making it very clear that there were boundaries. Later, a monkey crawled on a woman and stole an egg from her. It’s very apparent; don’t have food out around these animals. They will get very aggressive.
After wandering the endless halls, we decided to take a short walk on the far side of Angkor Wat to see what lay in the area. We found a little temple there, also still in use as evidenced by the offerings. It was time for a mid-morning snack. I had gotten these little fig cookies where we bought our tickets. We did a monkey survey to ensure I wouldn’t have an issue. It was really lovely, sitting on the steps of the temple, staring back at Angkor Wat through the woods. It’s these moments that resonate forever.
That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about our adventures at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohn!
It was the day to drive to Mammoth Caves. A glorious day. I had been keen to go to Mammoth Caves for several years. We had done a road trip to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. We opted to go to the lesser known Cathedral Caverns State Park in Alabama, which was super cool. But Mammoth was the big time. So when my husband originally suggested this trip to Southern Illinois, I was excited about the prospect of visiting Mammoth Cave as a side trip.
It was about a three hour drive, mostly through Kentucky since we were staying about thirty miles from the border. On the way, we were astonished to see the seeming lack of billboards all over Kentucky. There must be a law. Or maybe they just don’t put up many billboards in the part of the state we were in. We had lunch at a Sonic on the way. I had never been to one, only knowing about it from the strange commercials back when I lived in Madison, WI. (There were no Sonics in Wisconsin at the time). It was a little unusual for us; we didn’t realize you needed to stay in the car. The cheeseburger I ordered was okay (I prefer Culver’s better). But the milkshake of Oreo Cheesecake was awesome. And so emblematic of our country’s problem with food. Mmm.
After a few hours, we got to Cave City. We had about an hour before our ticketed tour (I highly recommend getting tickets ahead of time). My coworker had mentioned a most magical place near the Caves: Dinosaur World. So that was our first stop. It is the best tourist trap ever. You pay about $16 and then hang out with these supposedly lifesize dinosaurs. It was so fun to wander a forest with dinosaurs all over (and giant spiders). There’s even a Mammoth grove. On the way, you see this giant T-Rex advertising for it. In the park, you can walk out to it and take photos. It has to be 3-4 floors up. There’s a little museum with a mix of artifacts and plaster casts of artifacts. Nothing like the Field or anything but neat. It was totally worth a side trip.
We then hopped in the car to get to Mammoth Caves in time for our tour. On the way, we were impressed with the amazing amount of tourist traps: Old West Towns, ziplining, horseback riding. This was tourist trap central. We got to Mammoth Cave, picked up our tickets, and made it to our tour just in time. (Seriously don’t be late). I had opted for the “Domes and Dripstones” tour. We boarded buses to get driven to the “New” entrance in the forest. We entered through a door into the dark. Once inside the cave, the temperature dropped to about 50 or so degrees, a relief from the 90 plus outside. It was impressive. We had to travel down about 100 stairs to a giant room.
Our the tour, we learned about George Morrison who concluded that there must have been other entrances to Mammoth Cave. He bought land and used explosives to expand some sinkholes. His team quickly discovered a giant cavern and then a section of the cave that was dubbed “Frozen Niagara.” He started leading tours down there, trying to take business away from the old Mammoth Cave entrance. He apparently hired people to dress up like troopers and create roadblocks to encourage folks to go his entrance over the other one. They would claim that the old entrance was closed because of cave-ins and other awful things. Apparently, there were the Kentucky Cave Wars where competing caves would sabotage each other (even destroying one another’s caves). There were allegedly some altercations. Eventually, people banded together to end the madness and bought the lands to consolidate it all, the root of the caves becoming a National Park. Pretty sweet. I look forward to reading more about the Cave Wars.
It was an impressive cavern. It was all smoothed naturally; there had been a river flowing through. With the exception of the lights and the benches and the ground, they hadn’t done much to the area. Along the way we saw gigantic boulders that just laid on the floor or at the bottom of chasms, clearly they had fallen from above. Crazy times. The guides turned off the lights at one point so we could experience pure darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. They tried to get us to not make any noise too but that failed for the most part. They said you could hear your heartbeating. Freaky!
We wandered through the cave to Frozen Niagara. It was an area with many stalagmites and stalactites with some columns. It looked a bit out of a horror film. The stalactites had this weird webbing look to them, made it look organic. Very cool and creepy. The guides told us that part of the reason that Mammoth Cave could be so large was that it was dry. Caves with stalagmites and stalactites eventually will collapse from the weight on the ceiling.
Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Caves
After Mammoth Cave, we decided to spend a bit more time in Cave City. We had a lot of tourist traps to choose from. We decided to check out Kentucky Down Under, which advertised petting a kangaroo. We got there around 4:50 and were told that they had sold their last ticket at 4pm. They closed at 6. Boo urns.
Instead, we ended up in a magical amusement park. We took a turn in Go-Karts, which was not my speed. Then we signed up for an hour horseback riding. I’ve been horseback riding twice before; the last time was a ten minute ride two years ago in Argentina. My horseriding skills are basically non-existent. But it’s fun and worth trying again.
So I’m terrible at leading horses around. My horse was tired and really didn’t want to take the longer path around. (It was the last ride of the day) Despite my best attempts, the horse ended up getting turned around. It was awkward. After some frustrating yet funny shenanigans with the horses in, we eventually got them on the right path. And then we galloped. It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. I don’t have much of a seat so I bobbed up and down, terrified that I would fly off the horse. It was only for a short time but it was amazing. After about thirty seconds, we went back to walking and I got to appreciate the scenery. Kentucky is gorgeous.
After the horseback riding, we decided to fit in some fun on a chair lift and Alpine Sled. There’s something about trips to Kentucky and chairlifts. When we went to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, there was a chair lift you could take to get to the top of the park. It’s a great way to relax, check out the sites, and feel the wind in your hair. The Alpine slide was fun but somehow my sled started to lose speed. For once, I wasn’t touching the brake much. Eek!
What a day in Cave City!
THe ride home turned out to be much more of an adventure than either of us wanted to be. We missed our exit to the next major highway so we let Google recalculate. Well, Google really decided to change the setting to adventure for us. We ended up on seventy-five miles of backroads before we got back to a major highway. At one point, we were on this little road between farms and houses when we saw debris on th way. We avoided hitting it with the tires but it got caught underneath the car. We ended up having to pull over where it was safe. It was stuck. It was a cardboard box with a plastic diesel tank. Thankfully, some nice local folks pulled over and helped us getting it out. After they left, we realized there was a little trail of liquid coming from the car. We had no idea what it was. It didn’t smell like fuel. Since it was a Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend in rural Kentucky, our only real option was to get to the major highway and find a gas station where we could find a mechanic. So we had this sixty mile ride of dread. The car seemed fine. Nothing indicated loss of fuel. But there is nothing like the fear of being broken down in a cell-phone dead zone in rural Kentucky at 9pm at night. Any time the car made any noises (ie. the radio) or we smelled anything funny, we both got very anxious. We did see some Amish buggys at one point with battery powered caution signs on the back of their buggys.
Eventually, we got to the highway and found a gas station. I asked if there was a mechanic available in the area. The people said that they could call one in for sixty bucks. They asked what the problem was, so we explained what happened. They offered to look at the car. So the gas station attendant and his friend checked the car, even tasted the liquid (still dripping, ever dripping). He was about 90% sure it was just air conditioning condensation. He said it could be antifreeze so he said get a gallon of water just in case it was. It was a relief.
We ended up at a Huddle Grill, a seeming knock off of Waffle House. It was strange. There was someone occasionally shrieking behind us. The waffle I ordered was okay. Alas.
We drove the additional 100 miles home and were fine. We were really happy to make it back to our B&B that night!
That’s all for now!