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Sidequest: Sagamore Hill and Teddy Roosevelt Museum

Sidequest: Sagamore Hill and Teddy Roosevelt Museum

It’s been a while now since we got back from our Alaskan adventure. Preparations for the baby (including some pretty hefty home renovations) have occupied most of my free time.

This weekend however, Ariel and I found ourselves heading out for a wedding (congrats MarJar!) on Long Island.

Nassau Colosseum

While Nassau County might not seem like a place to go in search of adventure, in these days of increased responsibility, you need to maximize the time you are given. So we decided to take a sidequest detour to Sagamore Hill, another hidden gem of the National Park system.

Sagamore Hill on Long Island
Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home.

Getting there was no problem – about an hour and 45 minutes by car from Central New Jersey or about an hour from Manhattan. And it was a relatively short experience there, so you could easily take a trip out there in morning and be back in your apartment by late afternoon. Or combine and make it a stop on the way out to the Hamptons or (a much better choice) Montauk for a weekend. In short, if you live in New York City, there’s no reason not to go here.

Aside from chronicling the history of the Sagamore Hill mansion and farm and the life and presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, which itself is fascinating, there are nice little nature trails that make it easy to forget you’re less than 20 miles from Times Square.

Probably about as close as your going to get to wild elk in this part of the world...

But most importantly – one of Teddy’s greatest passions was protecting nature and open spaces and keeping them pristine for future generations. In fact, much of the National Parks System we have today, from Denali to the Everglades and everything in between, are due to Roosevelt’s actions over 100 years ago.

In many ways, this is where it all began. Not just in the United States, but throughout the world. Yellowstone, which was the first American national park, was also the first national park designated by any country, anywhere. So whether you’re on the National Mall in Washington, DC or trekking across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand, you can thank the 26th US President for setting an example that would be followed by future-minded governments around the world.

Leave it as is
If it wasn’t for Teddy, the Grand Canyon would probably be a uranium mine today.

Teddy’s life is also something of an inspiration for wanderers. From his experience leaving his native New York City to spend time in the badlands of South Dakota, to his post-presidency international trips to Africa and the Himalayas, to his return to the United States to stand up to forces that would corrupt and weaken the nation, to his tireless defense of all things natural – there is a real Tolkien-esque feeling to his presidency and life.

Still not convinced? How about this then?

Was President Roosevelt actually a hobbit?

President Roosevelt brought these pipes home with him from a trip overseas.

You find me a hobbit who wouldn’t be thrilled to smoke some leaf out of these pipes. I challenge you.

In short, we really enjoyed our trip to Sagamore Hill, which was both inspiring in light of the current pathetic state of political discourse in America, as well as an excellent and easily reachable destination for anyone who longs for the open spaces and natural splendor of the wild places of our planet…but doesn’t quite have the time or ability to get there.

“When you encounter an obstacle, the rule is, ‘over, under, or through…but NEVER around.” -Theodore Roosevelt

If you live in the New York City area, GO HERE. Don’t wait. Just go. Because if there’s one OTHER thing I learned from the life of Theodore Roosevelt, it’s that he, like JRR Tolkien, believed that the most important thing we can go with our lives..

…is to make the most of the time which is given to us.

Reflecting On A Final (Solo) Ride

Reflecting On A Final (Solo) Ride

As I sit here on night seven of my Alaska adventure with Ariel, my thoughts turn to last week’s solo adventure and really the last 12 years of solo travel.

This little getaway had a lot in common with my past solo trips:

  • Waking up not knowing where I’d sleep every night.
  • Major last-minute diversions from the itinerary.
  • Staying at the cheapest, crappiest place I could rest my head.
  • Eating most meals in the car or motel rooms.
  • Dicey moment at an international border.
  • Going off the beaten path and letting the road take me instead of the other way around.
  • Ultimate freedom.

But still, it was missing something more important than all of that.

My travel mate, Ariel.

I love traveling alone.

Chilling out at the Perito Morena Glacier, Argentina.
Chilling out at the Perito Morena Glacier, Argentina.

Anytime you travel with a partner you have to make compromises. Ariel is……less open to the kinds of places I’m willing to eat and sleep for example. She also is a planner. When we travel together, she will look at our route and look for places to eat, sleep and stop along the way and pre-book them. Our travel together ends up looking more like an organized tour itinerary than a disorganized wanderer’s journey.

Taking a breather in Northern Ireland.
Canyonlands, Utah
Standing atop the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah. Not the brightest thing I ever did.
I get a little too close to a royal guardsman...
Pro tip: Never make physical contact with a royal guard in London.
Thumbs up or thumbs down at the ancient Coliseum in Rome.

This can have major advantages, especially as it pertains to cost savings on booking rooms months in advance as opposed to minutes in advance. And by preparing for your trip, you can research the best places to eat and the coolest sights to see. If this is your style of travel, I highly recommend doing it this way. Also, there are few things more demoralizing than driving for 10 hours in a day, then pulling into some tumbleweed town with one motel at midnight…only to find out there’s no vacancy there or it’s closed.

And that the next town is another 2+ hours down the road.

Not good.

The disadvantage is that when you make your reservations months in advance, it makes it much harder to call an audible like I did when deciding to go to Devils Lake just the other day. Or years ago, when I decided to go about 200 miles out of my way to see the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, which unexpectedly led me to my first view of the Milky Way Galaxy – one of my favorite travel memories of all time.

Pompeii, Italy
Even in Pompeii, random strangers will ruin your carefully staged picture.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s just not the same without her. The give and take between my spontaneity and her planning is really what makes us such a great travel pair. She makes the plans. I improvise whenever the plan doesn’t work out so well. We really do work so well together as a travel team.

From the deepest caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM
Ariel and I take a quick break at Carlsbad Caverns near Roswell, New Mexico.

To mountains in the sky.

Skyrim
Glacier National Park, Montana. Or is it Skyrim?

And all the way to the literal ends of the Earth.

The ends of the earth...
At The Sauvage in Rangiroa, French Polynesia. The residents refer to it as “the end of the Earth.”

I’ll still take the opportunity to go off on my own when the situation arises. A quick detour on a business trip. A short diversion on a weekend when I’m alone. But for the most part, having a child means the odds of these opportunities are rapidly shrinking to zero.

No. Going forward, travel – especially adventure-style travel – will no longer be a solo sport. It will be a team effort. As a unit. As a family. And while I may reflect back fondly on my times as a solo traveler on this blog on occasion…

Journey's end
The end of our New Zealand road trip was a bittersweet time for us.

…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Day 2: An Incredible Sidequest To The Source Of The Mississippi River

Day 2: An Incredible Sidequest To The Source Of The Mississippi River

Day 2 began in Rochester, Minnesota where I stayed at the Days Inn. Whatever. Next it was back to the Mississippi River at Lake City. The views there were pretty cool, but not so different really than the Hudson River.

Until I looked up…

Look, I get that for a lot of people in this country, bald eagles are just birds. But I’m from NEW JERSEY for God’s sake. It might as well have been pterodactyl. Supposedly there’s a bald eagle pair somewhere in the Meadowlands, but I sure don’t know anyone who has ever seen it. The only other time in my life that I ever saw a bald eagle (or any eagle I think) was actually in Canada with Ariel on our first ever trip together. That was awesome. But seeing a bald eagle IN AMERICA WHERE IT BELONGS was a really moving moment. It also was flying right over my head for a solid 20 minutes. I was transfixed. I mean they really are such graceful animals, you just need to look at one in flight for five seconds before it’s incredibly clear why they chose them as our national symbol.

After the eagle sighting I made my way up to Minneapolis. I didn’t stay long because……….I have very little patience for cities. We have New York City. That’s enough city for 100 lifetimes. While I was there, I stopped at Prime Deli for lunch. It’s a kosher restaurant that serves grass-fed beef. I’ve never had grass-fed beef.

Yes. More of this please.

It was amazing. In fact, I’ve never encountered a kosher restaurant that serves grass-fed beef so I HIGHLY recommend making the trip for this. I’m not saying I would fly again to Minneapolis just for the burger I had. But I would definitely think about it.

From Minneapolis it was a race against the setting sun to get to Lake Itasca State Park. Lake Itasca is the official designated headwaters of the Mississippi River. This is no joke. I’m talking about seeing the 2,500+ long river, which is ELEVEN MILES wide at its widest point, at it’s starting point.

“It ain’t exactly the Mississippi.” Actually, it is…

Which is all of 18 feet wide.

I mean, it’s really incredible. You can literally look at the lake and see where the river begins. I don’t know if there’s something like this for the Amazon or the Nile, but this was really an incredible sight.

This is it. The “infant” Mississippi River. Unreal.

Being that it was a Friday evening, that also meant I got to do my Shabbat ritual with my bread and wine (this time grape juice yuck). Saying kiddush (the Jewish prayer that welcomes the Sabbath), at the headwaters of one of the great rivers of the world – and doing the hand washing ritual AT THE SOURCE OF THE RIVER – is something I will have a hard time topping. Finding creative places to make kiddush is one of my ongoing quests so this was a big one for me.

One of the most spiritual places I’ve ever made Kiddush.

From the headwaters of the Mississippi, it was onward to Bemidji, Minnesota where they have a statue of Paul Bunyan (who is apparently a big deal in these parts) and Babe the Blue Ox.

It’s Paul Bunyan. And Babe. Wow.

They also have a real infestation of some awful flying insect.

And that was about all I could take for one day.

So far on this trip, I’ve knocked out the two remaining states I needed in the contiguous United States and got to see the source of the Mississippi River. Not bad. Today I’m heading to the northernmost point in those aforementioned Lower 48. That should be fun.

Stay tuned for more!

Re-adjusting to normalcy: Finding adventure in the everyday

Re-adjusting to normalcy: Finding adventure in the everyday

Find the beauty in the everyday.

As I sit here at the Delta Lounge in Atlanta (which is AWESOME by the way), it dawns on me that it’s been four months almost to the day since we returned from our epic New Zealand/Middle Earth adventure. While our trip was only two weeks long, being away from home and seeing new things (not to mention the intense breaks from reality that were our travel days there and back again), where every day’s goal was to simply live in the moment, makes re-adjusting to every day life a challenge.

How does one go from sunsets and mountains and open landscapes one day to staring a computer screen, fiddling with spreadsheets the next day? And then the next day? And then the next day… And then…

One way to do it is to make sure you love what you do. I happen to really love my job which grants me the kind of flexibility to go to places like New Zealand and Tahiti. I also enjoy the actual work but unless you’re really into VLOOKUPs and Excel formulas I’m not going to bore you with those details.

However, for a long time, I really DID NOT love what I did and used to dream of going to the kinds of places I’ve only been able to go to fairly recently. My solution to the problem was to blow up my life and start over in a way that gave me the freedom to go on adventures.

But what if that’s not possible? What if you don’t have the luxury of just “starting over” because of financial reasons or family reasons or health reasons?

In that case, the only choice is to find the adventure in your every day life.

Can’t go away for two weeks? Pack up the car and drive somewhere new. No money to explore Paris or Rome? Find the nearest city to where you live and explore locally. Stuck on a business trip in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do? Ask the locals what the most beautiful local site is, take an extra half day and GO THERE. One of my coolest places I ever visited was Muir Woods, which was just an hour or so drive out of San Francisco, where I had gone for a conference for work.

Having said that, nothing Ariel and I have done since getting back has quite matched the adventure and freedom of life on the road in a strange country, without a care but where we would sleep for the night. But we’ve found other ways to make the mundane everyday into something else.

For example, in April, we adopted a dog!

Introducing Samwise Gamgee the Brave Kapoano…

His name? Sammy. Or Samwise Gamgee The Brave The Dog Kapoano to be more precise. Naturally.

And let me tell you something – he has been quite the adventure. He’s great, but he’s sure not all pony rides in May-sunshine.

Having a dog complicates matters for us in terms of our next adventure. While we can certainly bring him with us on weekend trips, we are limited by places that allow pets. Furthermore, bringing him with us on true extended travel like we had in New Zealand is just not realistic. So we will have to adjust – but we knew this ahead of time. Sammy is just one of several reasons we went all in on the New Zealand trip.

An elven cloak. Orrrr not.

So you adjust. Tend to your home. Start a garden. Reflect on past travel. Look forward to the next adventure, even if it may not come for years. And you never, ever, lament the circumstances that have led to your reduced freedom. Instead you remind yourself that you always have choices.

Our garden. The image at the top of this post is a garlic flower growing in it!

Your most important choice? What to do with the time you are given.

As our lives become a bit more sedentary, look to this blog to delve more deeply into past adventures that Ariel and I have been on together or separately so you can relive our triumphs and learn from our mistakes.

Not quite the White Tree of Minas Tirith, but it’s ours so it will have to do…

Stay tuned!

Adventures are not all pony rides in May sunshine

Adventures are not all pony rides in May sunshine

Bilbo was sadly reflecting that adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine…

–The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

So this isn’t a vacation.

We knew this. You knew this.

It’s an adventure.

What’s the difference, you ask? Well, it’s simple really. Vacations are relaxing. Adventures are awesome. But occasionally adventures also suck. And like the word “awesome” sometimes it means amazing, sometimes it means intimidating. When you’re trying to cram an entire country into 13 days, you’re going to experience a lot of highs, but also a lot of lows. Like our friend, Bilbo Baggins, we’ve experienced quite a bit of both over the past few days.

Mount Doom, or if you prefer Mount Ngauruhoe in real life.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, while incredible and awe-inspiring, did a real number on both Ariel and I. Two days later and we’re still sore. I’m sunburnt, my thighs hurt and I have blisters on my feet. Her knees are painful. On top of that, yesterday, in addition to taking a relaxing yet amazing flight over the very same route we trekked a couple of days ago, I insisted we trek up to the Putangirua Pinnacles, which was the film location for the Dimholt Road (pictured at the top of this post).

It was a really cool experience (also to be fully detailed in a later post), but it did add an extra two hours of hiking on rocks to the 10 miserable hours we did the day before. On a normal day it would be no big deal, but in light of the grueling prior 24 hours it definitely set back our healing time.

Then yesterday, during our all day tour of the film locations around Wellington, whoever it is that rules the weather in New Zealand decided to dump about 3 inches of rain on our heads.

Get off the mother#@#$ing road!

Whatever, it was still awesome. Just exhausting.

Today, we have a ferry to catch at 7 am, have to return our garbage rental car and transfer all of our damn stuff into a the new car they’re giving us. And it looks like more pouring rain. Fun times!

Highs and lows. Pony rides and grueling slogs. We could slow down and miss out on stuff we want, or we can decide to maximize the time that has been given to us. Which would you choose?