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Category: Side Quest

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.

A Friday Night/Shabbat Kiddush Sidequest

A Friday Night/Shabbat Kiddush Sidequest

We’ve been at sea now for about three days and have been taking in the various sights of Alaska. I’ll post an update on our travels shortly. But in my last post I mentioned that prior to setting sail we had one last adventure/sidequest to complete before being able to relax.

One tradition that I’m really proud to have started on my adventures is to always pause to watch the sunset. Wherever I am, no matter how many miles I’ve traveled that day or how many more miles I have yet to go, I always stop to watch the sun go down.

Well according to Jewish tradition, sundown on Friday nights is the traditional start of the Jewish Sabbath – AKA: Shabbat. So on Friday evenings, I like to say the traditional Shabbat blessings (Kiddush) wherever I am. It’s a nice reminder that wherever you go in life – where ever the road takes you – you’re still the person you always were. Bringing your traditions with you is a good way to remain grounded and tied to home.

It’s also a great way to feel connected to religion and spirituality, oftentimes while out in nature, in the strangest places. I’ve felt more spiritual in the few minutes it takes to do this little ritual than I have in years of going to synagogues.

I’ve also brought a bit of Jewish tradition to some pretty amazing places that are preeeeetty far from Jewish people and Judaism in general.

Shabbat in Moorea, French Polynesia.
Shabbat in Chaco Canyon National Park, New Mexico.
Shabbat in The Shire. Ok, the Catlins, New Zealand.
Shabbat in the Dominican Republic.

In many cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the only person to have ever said these blessings in the places where I stood. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.

The only trouble is, in order to do the Jewish Kiddush you need bread and wine. Being something of a traditionalist that means I need KOSHER bread and wine or grape juice. This can present a challenge when you’ve forgotten to bring wine with you to say… the Dominican Republic. Or Seward, Alaska.

At some point on the way down from Denali National Park, it dawned on me that I did not have any grape juice (Ariel is pregnant so no wine for us on this trip!) or bread to do this. A few phone calls to the Chabad (a Jewish religious sect that does a lot of outreach/assistance for less religious Jews) in Anchorage confirmed that my only hope was to go to a local store in town. Apparently kosher grape juice and bread isn’t exactly a hot selling item in Alaska.

Pretty much all of the Jews in Alaska live in Anchorage so the only stores likely to have anything like that, in an area larger than half of the entire continental United States, were all located in one part of one city.

Unfortunately for us, that part of the city was NOT where we were going to be during the hour or so between our arrival there and our departure for Seward. I know this, because I called literally every liquor store within walking distance that could POSSIBLY have something like this. Nope.

So we were in a bit of a bind…

Suddenly, the gentleman sitting behind us tapped me on the shoulder and told us he would have us covered.

Jason, an African-American guy from Washington, DC who just so happened to be working in Alaska over the summer, had a friend in Seward who would go to one of the only stores in THAT town and see if they had any kosher grape juice (“Manischewitz” he pointed out, so we would know he knew EXACTLY what we were talking about) and MEET US AT THE DOCK TO DELIVER IT TO US.

It was a Shabbat Miracle.

However, the more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed to me that this thing would work out. Jason was awesome, and we chatted with him for the whole rest of the bus ride. But if it was almost impossible to find kosher grape juice in Anchorage, what were the odds they would have it in Seward?

So then we actually had a SECOND Shabbat Miracle and for whatever reason our time in Anchorage was increased to about 90 minutes.

This meant we were able to catch a cab to the outskirts of town, run into a store, buy a gallon of one of the last jugs of kosher grape juice they had (really, they only had one size and it cost $10), get BACK to the place we had to board the bus AND have a quick lunch at the food court of the Anchorage Mall.

Victory.

And still catch the bus to the docks in Seward.

Was it worth the effort? Worth the money? Worth the stress? Even though we aren’t the most religious people, the mere fact we succeeded in this little sidequest was very satisfying in and of itself. Plus we got to talk to Jason, a Jehovah’s Witness who still knew all about Judaism and “doing mitzvahs” (his words) because he spent some time researching Judaism when he was younger. We got to know him, how he ended up in Alaska and made a really personal connection with a total stranger by giving him an opportunity to offer a totally selfless act. I mean how great is that?

So yeah, it was worth it this time. And it was worth it the time we had another Shabbat miracle in the Dominican Republic and the place we were staying just happened to have one bottle of Israeli wine. And it was worth it the time I got to do Kiddush at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. And in Santorini (the image at the top of the post). And in a random field in Wyoming.

Any sidequest is generally worth doing. This one is my favorite.

And I hope you will consider doing something like this on your own travels. Doesn’t matter what your religion is. Just bring some of your traditions with you. When you’re furthest from home, in the wilderness, that’s the time you need to be most grounded.

So bring a little bit of home with you.

They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard: Rohan, (AKA the Ida Valley, New Zealand)

They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard: Rohan, (AKA the Ida Valley, New Zealand)

They took the hobbits to Isengard. The question was, would we find WHERE they took the hobbits to Isengard from?

Anytime I’m going off on the road, I like to take on some side quests.

This comes from years of playing games like Fallout and Zelda and can range from simple things like finding the world’s biggest ball of twine (that’s in Cawker City Kansas, also near the geographical “center” of the lower 48 states) to more off-the-beaten path stuff like the original Joshua Tree from the U2 album cover (hint: it’s NOT in Joshua Tree National Park).

It’s usually not about the actual items – I’m not much of a U2 fan and I really don’t care about twine – it’s about the challenge of finding odd things that are outside my usual comfort zone. And anyway, if your only goal is to simply get from point A to point B, that’s a really poor use of the time you are given, isn’t it?

A rock that looks like a rabbit. Luckily it's not a real rabbit or someone probably would have shot it by now.
A rock that looks like a rabbit. Luckily it’s not a real rabbit or someone probably would have shot it by now.

For our New Zealand trip, Ariel and I wanted to re-create the most famous of all Lord of the Rings memes. You know of what I speak…

THEY’RE TAKING THE HOBBITS TO ISENGARD

The trouble is, finding the precise film location(s) proved highly elusive and it appeared, shockingly, that no one had successfully recreated even a portion of the scene anywhere on the internet. After sifting through endless home recreations in random locations, as well as images from people’s trips on organized tours, it became clear that no one had managed to find the place.

This only hardened my resolved more. Now I turned to my old friends at theonering.net which I had last been to about 20 years ago. They recommended I purchase the Lord of the Rings location guidebook from Amazon. This was a great move because it gave us all kinds of other cool locations – and allowed us to at least pinpoint the general area we needed to head to. This book is a must for any fan of the movies going to New Zealand.


This is really a must-have for anyone on a Lord of the Rings adventure in New Zealand.
But it still didn’t give us the specific location of that scene.

So I took the next logical step and reached out to some really awesome bloggers who had been in the area. One of which, Amanda from dangerous-business.com (which is where I learned about how awesome the Edoras location was) recommended I reach out to a tour operator. The other one, Rikka from Deviating the Norm actually tried to reach out to people she knew from the area.

No luck either way.

At last, I just started reaching out to local hotel/motel owners. They too were unsure, but finally someone pointed me in the direction of the actual landowners where the shots were filmed. I reached out to them and…paydirt! Sharon Falconer, one of the landowners, not only knew the area but offered to take us there for a relatively small fee.

AWESOME.

But still, my semi-OCD about the whole thing (this had now become a huge challenge that I was determined to overcome) was gnawing at me during the whole lead up to the trip so I tried reaching out to others in order to get some kind of secondary confirmation.

No one was able to guarantee anything and I’m sure everyone I asked thought I was completely nuts. Even on our tour of the Wellington film locations our guide (who himself was obsessed with showing us exact spots used in exact screen caps) didn’t seem too confident about anything. Worse, he painstakingly showed the tour how often multiple locations were used in creating certain shots, sometimes from locations hundreds of miles apart.

Ugh.

The morning of our tour arrived and Sharon picked us up from where we were staying. Her confidence and encyclopedic knowledge about the movies and region in general was very encouraging right from the start. Still… this was literally our only chance at this and at this point it had nothing to do even with the movies… I just wanted to WIN.

Rohan, home of the horse lords. And lots of rocks.
Rohan, home of the horse lords. And lots of rocks.

As we crossed over onto her property though, that feeling quickly faded. The whole Ida Valley and specifically the Poolburn Reservoir/Bonspiel Station area is simply magic. More than anywhere else we went, the landscape is utterly fantastical. Nothing was changed for the movies, aside for a few road improvements and the removal of some fences. This was really Rohan, home of the horse lords, with the unique rocks sticking out of the ground in all kinds of crazy formations.

Like hundreds of other places in New Zealand, you don’t need to be a Lord of the Rings geek to appreciate the amazing landscape. Who cares about some stupid video clip when you’re surrounded by views like this? I mean, really.

Poolburn Reservoir in the Ida Valley. Like walking into a movie. In real life.
Poolburn Reservoir in the Ida Valley. Like walking into a movie. In real life.

And Sharon proved to be an excellent guide. She took us to specific locations used in the filming and shared with us all kinds of interesting stories, not just about the movies, but about life in the Ida Valley in general. It was really cool.

It also didn’t take long for her to deliver on her confidence. One of our first stops was one of the exact spots where Legolas uses his “elf eyes” to see.

The original "taking the hobbits to isengard" scene.
The original “taking the hobbits to isengard” scene.

There was no doubt about it – we were there. This is where they freakin’ took the hobbits to Isengard.

Where WE took the hobbits to Isengard.
Where WE took the hobbits to Isengard.

The other locations in the clip were really just random rocks on the property, so we just picked a few that looked like them and did the rest there. Here’s the finished product:

Note: we weren’t exactly going for an exact representation (we didn’t use props or try to stay in character or anything). This was just for laughs. The point of the exercise was finding an elusive place. We’ll leave it to the true fans to go back there and do a proper recreation.

Sharon also took us into a few other shooting locations, which were maybe even cooler. We went to the canyon where Pippin drops his leaf pin and Aragorn does his whole “listening to the rock” routine. We did some more videos there, with Sharon’s help.

Leaf Brooch Canyon, where Pippin did not "idly" drop his leaf.
Leaf Brooch Canyon, where Pippin did not “idly” drop his leaf.

NOT IDLY DO THE LEAVES OF LORIEN FALL YOU GUYS

Finally we went out to the Poolburn reservoir itself for another cool movie location. This was also precisely as it looked in the movies and a beautiful place in and of itself. Of course by this point it was starting to rain so it was time to pack it in for the day and move on.

The "Rohan Village" which was burned down by Saruman's jerk people. Fun fact, it was ACTUALLY burned down by the effects people.
The “Rohan Village” which was burned down by Saruman’s jerk people. Fun fact, it was ACTUALLY burned down by the effects people.

In the end, I was really happy with the day and the tour itself. We ended up being with Sharon for over two hours and she was really cool, taking pictures and video of us even without us needing to ask. She also knows EVERYTHING about the region. She also apparently got questions from every tour guide and hotel/motel operator in the neighborhood about the location… since everyone I asked had to ask her… since it’s her property…

Oof.

Well whatever, at least I can save you the trouble if you’re going to the neighborhood without a tour and want to find this most elusive of meme locations.

Side quest: COMPLETED.

And while it didn’t help us find the place they took the hobbits to Isengard…the Lord of the Rings location guidebook did help us find tons of other really awesome places. Must-buy for anyone going to New Zealand who has ever seen the movies.