52 Weeks Filled with Mementos

Welcome to a New Year, Welcome to a New Blog –

While everyone is stowing away their christmas ornaments for another year, I’m stowing my life away for another quest. Most likely the biggest one so far as I am leaving with no actual expiration date on my adventure. And this my friends is so liberating and scary at the same time.

And now I am sitting here in my room filling boxes with stuff I have gathered over the  years. More than ready to toss out those old cds from the 90s with embarrassing songs and that leather jacket I never wore because I bought it too small in the first place. Golden rule is, if you have never used it or wore it in the last year, toss it. Except for momentos. A lot of mementos from my travels I simply can’t throw out. It is just too damn precious. The memories you made, the experiences you encountered, the people you met on your road of life. Cherish every single on them. From the awkward little love note from your high school sweetheart to the drunken polaroid group shot from your trip overseas or that awesome pebble you found in the Mongolian Desert last year.

Still trying to decide to do something original with these momentos and take them with me or just leave them in the shoeboxes at leave them at my moms’ for now. Any ideas are more than welcome in the comments.

So here is to a New Year, A New Life and another 52 weeks filled with Mementos, which I will try to share with you on a weekly basis. Hope you and I both enjoy the memories we will make this year.

Colorado Craziness : Winter has arrived

Life is full of endless possibilities. Explore your world. 

Once we arrived at Aspen we noticed how slippery the roads were and were glad we could park it in the underground parking garage near the information center. We got our information and strolled through the town of Aspen.

We had lunch at 520 Grill, a below street level restaurant with tasty burgers !

After we filled our bellies my friend Sarah decided to give it a try on the slopes of Aspen Mountain, one of the most intense ski hills of the USA. Myself, who had bare to none experience decided to sit this one through. I did buy a Gondola Pass for the day, giving me access to the cool gondola that starts downtown Aspen and goes up Aspen Mountain to the Sundeck and its panoramic view. Definitely worth its money during winter.

After I’ve sent Sarah off to a good ride down the hill I enjoyed myself in the cafetaria of the Sundeck where I was treated with awesome views over the Rockies. The ride with the gondola itself is already a treat.

After we had our fun in Aspen it was time to drive to our next hotel that was located in Silverthorne, another gateway along the I-15 to go to Breckenridge, another great ski destination in the USA which is slightly cheaper than Aspen.

On our last day full day in Colorado we left Silverthorne in the early morning to have some time in Breckenridge. Another cool spot for your typical fun in the snow. We tried out the gondola as well (which was free today) and headed to the base of the slopes. As much as we wanted to explore the ski hills, there wasn’t enough time to test the snow unfortunately.

We had lunch in Breckenridge before driving all the way to Denver where we would spend the rest of the afternoon.

Denver was a slight disappointment. Except for some governmental buildings and some nice parks I wasn’t overly impressed of the city. Maybe my expectations I’ve collected over the years were too high and I was just still overwhelmed with excitement of my trip through the Rockies.

After exploring Denver for a bit and even driving down to Colorado Springs we spent our last night in a hotel near the airport (also cheaper) before catching an early morning flight the next day. Luckily both our flights left on time this time.

Colorado Craziness : The False Start

Earlier this year I decided to go on a road trip with Sarah, my good friend from Ontario.

We had a blast in Moraine Lake last summer so we decided to continue our fun times for a bit.

This time we decided to explore the American Rockies instead of her Canadian Sister.

Since Sarah was living back east in Ontario and I was still working in Vancouver we decided to meet each other in the middle (more or less) in Denver.

We looked up flights that were both (fairly) cheap for us and with the approximate same arrival time so we could start our journey at the same time.

Well of course that didn’t worked out.

Instead of arriving around 11 PM with a 15 minute time difference I stranded in Denver at 3 AM while Sarah was having a couple drinks downtown Charlotte, NC.

How ?

Sudden weather changes.

It started off without any complications.

But soon enough that one flight from Seattle to Denver on the timetable started to get more and more delayed because of a snowstorm over Colorado. In the meantime Sarah was already on her way from Toronto to Charlotte, NC where she had her connection to Denver. But the plane in Toronto left with a delay because of another snowstorm in Ontario and she missed her connection and was scheduled for the next flight the next morning. But Sarah didn’t let it get to her heart and made friends right away and made the best of her night in Charlotte and went for a couple drinks.

Meanwhile my flight finally departed around midnight and I arrived in Denver in the middle of the night where I had to wait for Sarah for another six hours. I had some midnight food and found some sleep next to the bagage carrousel.

After spending more than 12 hours in airports before the trip even had to start Sarah and I were reunited.

We forgot about the bad start (that wasn’t that bad at all) and picked up the rental car. Because the weather forecast was not predicting this kind of weather we had booked a compact car for our trip but once we got outside the airport it was clear we would not get anywhere with this type of car in this kind of weather. We needed an upgrade but the only type available was an SUV. And that came at a high cost. It was all or nothing so we decided to get the upgrade after all.

Then we could finally start our journey and we set course to Boulder through the winter wonderland. Roads were still pretty slippery so we had to drive slower than we anticipated which resulted in a huge delay of our trip.

We arrived in Boulder by noon and had a great lunch at West Flanders Brewing Co. Boulder is a perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner and a small walk through Pearl Street on your way to the Rockies.

Our climb into the Rockies could finally start.

The Gems of Grand Teton National Park

It is not the position you stand but the direction in which you look that counts

One of the parks I’ve visited in the United States is Grand Teton National Park.

It left a big impression on me.

Sometimes this park gets less attention because of its famous neighbour, Yellowstone but it definitely deserves a couple days from your precious time.

Here are my (current) top 5 highlights of this park.

5. Jenny Lake Scenic Drive

This one way drive gives you a great view over Jenny Lake on your right. Put on a good tune and let your eyes take it all in. Not you, driver, you keep your eyes on the road and you can enjoy the music and the road ahead.

4. Blacktail Pond Overlook 

Visit this place at the end of the day to get more chances to see the beavers. You can also bring a visit to this place to make some stunning reflection pictures of the Teton mountains during the day.

3. Snake River Overlook 

Another overlook, another great view of the mountains and the snake river. My friend once gave me a motivational poster of this shot. That poster hanged up in my room for years so I HAD to make a stop at this beautiful place.

So worth it.

2. Phelps Lake 

Not the most famous lake of all but it’s a great spot where you can jump of a huge rock. Just make sure you push yourself off the rock when you jump off. As my friend already jumped threes times I felt the pressure rising. My heart was starting to beat even faster when a joyful family joined us to have a picnic on the rock and started cheering for me.

I felt like there wasn’t a way back.

I had to jump off or I would regret this all my life. So I went a couple steps back, breathed in and out a couple times and started running. Instead of pushing myself of the rock I stepped off the rock and made my descent and finished gracefully with a nasty face plant in the incredibly refreshing water.

Classic.

Still glad I did it.

1. Surprise Lake and Amphitheatre Lake

Two lakes fairly close to each other high up in the mountains. This is a day trip hike that starts off with a bunch of switchbacks but once you conquered those you will soon be rewarded with great views over the park and Jackson Hole.

We did this hike begin of October and lucked out with the weather because we traveled during the few last warm and sunny days of the season.

During the hike you will be stunned with great views over the park and beautiful lakes.

Make sure you bring enough water on this hike as it took us nearly 7 hours to complete the hike from beginning to end.

Discovering Wyoming : All over the Place

And then there was this time I made a road trip through Alberta, Montana and Wyoming with Gordon.

After driving through Alberta and Montana we finally made it to Wyoming after passing the Roosevelt Arch. This arch marks the North Entrance of the park and is named after President Roosevelt after he placed one of the corner stones of this arch over a century ago.

We lucked out with the fantastic weather as it is October and the area is at the verge of winter. If we would have arrived 10 days later a lot of the roads would have been closed off already. So make sure you always check the road conditions on the website of the National Park you will visit.

Also, if you visit a couple National Parks on your road trip through the USA and you arrive at your first park, make sure to consider buying an annual pass if you are planning on visiting more than 4 National Parks. It will be cheaper in the long run.

The first big stop we made in the park was Mammoth Hot Springs followed by the Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. Three very impressive stops where every photographer among us can take a million pictures.

Unfortunately the sun was already setting once we made it to the Old Faithful. We were able to still witness an eruption before it went completely dark. Don’t forget to bring a visit to the Old Faithful Inn when you are there.

We exited the park and drive all the way down to Jackson Hole where we had accommodations booked for the next two nights so we could explore Grand Teton National Park and Jackson for a bit.

We stayed at Miller Park Lodge and had a very enjoyable stay. Nice rooms, free parking and located in the center of the touristy town of Jackson Hole. We arrived very late but had no problem checking in.

The next day we got ourselves a good breakfast burrito before we hit the road again. Today would be the highlight of our trip as we were about to go hiking in Grand Teton National Park.

Once we entered the park we made a quick stop at the visitor center for some recommendations about the park. The ranger was awesome and gave us some fun places to do and see. I will share my top 5 of things to see and do in the park in my next post.

At night we grabbed a bite at McPhail’s Burgers where they use fresh ground beef to make their delicious burgers.

Afterwards we visited the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar near the Jackson Town Square. If you want the Western Cowboy Bar you’ve seen in the movies, than this one is your go to place. It even has saddle bar stools inside and the place to have a good time in Jackson.

Discovering Wyoming : Race Against Time

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Sunday morning,

I woke up and tried to open my eyes.

I felt the exhaustion in my body.

The intense road trip was slowly catching up on all of us but we didn’t let that get us down.

We packed our stuff and left the historical Lake Yellowstone Hotel early in the morning. We had the whole park to discover plus a flight to catch in Salt Lake City in the evening.

Our first stop was at the Old Faithful, one of the main attractions of this park. This is an active geyser that erupts every half an hour to two hours. For time estimations when the next eruption will be, go check in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn, the largest log hotel in the world that was built over a century ago. Worth a peek !

We continued to our next stop, Mid Geyser Basin. Here you can behold the Grand Prismatic Spring, a pool with very special colours caused by the bacterials mats and the extreme pure water caused by the constant heat of the pool.

On our way north we passed some bisons who were not giving a damn about the tourists in the park while strolling over the roads.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was our next place to explore. Unbelievable how much diversity and beauty this one National Park has. Here you hike down a little path to get to the giant waterfall.

After a few snaps we decided to squeeze Mammoth Hot Springs in to our visit to this park and had a glance of the lower and upper terrace. Then we evaluated our time frame and it was not looking good.

We exited the park through the West Entrance (or West Exit if you want to call it that) and started our race to the airport of Salt Lake City.

After a few hours of driving I handed over the wheel to one of my German friends.

She stepped on the wheel.

And then she got pulled over by the cops.

We were four foreigners racing through Idaho to catch a plane to Los Angeles. My friend explained the situation to the highway patroller and told him we had a plane to catch in a few hours in Salt Lake City.

He gave us a well deserved ‘you guys are poor planners’ look and let us go with a warning.

Twenty minutes lost on our clock – We already had a whole game plan figured out. Two of us would go check us in while the other two would return the rental car and catch up with them.

With less than an hour before departure we entered Salt Lake City and two of us rushed inside the airport while the remaining two were dealing with the drop off of our rental car. After some rude customer service we finally could start our chase to the gate.

We made it right on time.

With our hearts beating fast and our minds full of great memories we flew back to Los Angeles.

This weekend was too short but if I only would have a weekend to do it, I would do it all over again.

Discovering Wyoming : Western Pleasures

I have visited the State of Wyoming twice in my life.

Both times were time bound.

In this blog I will share you the first part of my first time

The first time I visited “the Equality State” was back in 2012 with three lively ladies. We flew from Los Angeles and landed in Salt Lake City on a Friday night. From there we picked up the rental car and started the long drive to Jackson Hole which was 4.30 hours away.

A long night ahead but we were all filled with excitement. If we would drive at a constant speed and make short and calculated stops we would made it by midnight.

That plan fell apart on our first stop of the night.

We managed to waste an hour of our time to eat and get gas. But it was all worth it.

We continued our drive and had to get off the Interstate 15 at one point and that’s where the exciting part started with only an empty road and complete darkness ahead of us. And very occasionally a little village.

We passed by one of those villages and there was a bar that was still open. We looked at each other and realized our precious night sleep would be crap anyways so decided to get a shot at a real cowboy bar. The parking lot was pretty full so we expected that the place would be busy until we walked in and saw nothing but a loving couple at the bar and a drunken waitress.

We had a couple shots (DD not included) and decided to continue our drive until an cowboy walked towards us from the back of the bar and told us to join the fun upstairs… So that’s where the party was happening. We got upstairs and couldn’t believe our eyes when we walked into a western brothel.

We turned around and got back to the car.

Welcome to Wyoming.

And that was only the beginning.

We arrived in Jackson Hole around 2 AM and tried to look for our hotel. We came to realize that our hotel wasn’t located in the historic downtown area of Jackson Hole but its nearby village, Teton Village.

We slept for 3 hours, got ready, had breakfast and hit the road again.

We started in Teton Village where we took the aerial tram up to the top of Rendez Vous Mountain. From the top you have awesome views and great hiking trails. Or you can just be crazy and paraglide down the mountain.

Around noon we had a reservation with Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips. They are located Downtown Jackson Hole. The staff was fantastic and the experience unforgettable ! We had a blast whitewater rafting and I would recommend this activity to anyone. Fun guaranteed !

Late in the afternoon we got back to the car and had another long drive ahead of us direction Yellowstone.

We were blessed to drive along US highway 89 with a marvelous view of the Tetons of Grand Teton National Park to our left. A place I was able to explore last year and now belongs to one of my favourite National Parks.

To be continued

This is why Hannah loves Montana

Look at everything as though you are seeing it either for the first or last time, then your time on earth will be filled with glory. 

The last few miles in Canada were a little nerve wrecking.

The US border is in sight.

I drove next to the border patrol station and rolled down my window and handed over our passports.

My buddy Gordon got his passport back immediately.

“We are you guys going ?” asks the border patrol agent with a concerned tone after he glanced over to our backseat filled with my life belongings.

“Off to a road trip through Montana and Wyoming” I assured him.

Then he asked me the question I feared.

“Where do you live now ?”

I answered in all honesty that I was between jobs and had no current address. I don’t know why I was this nervous about this. I am sure there are a lot of cases like this on a daily basis.

“I need you to park your car and come inside” he demanded me while he hands over my passport to another officer.

We do as told and answer a couple more questions. The officers inside were more relaxed and soon enough we realized we were perfectly fine. The main reason why I got pulled over was because of the mandatory ESTA fee. Although I paid my ESTA fee for my US flights and it was still valid I still had to pay an additional six dollars (USD) before I could enter the USA.

Done !

We got back to the car and cheered !

We made it.

The United States of America !

Not much further we made a stop next to the ‘Welcome to Montana’ sign and we hit the road for a long long drive.

The roads on highway 89 are windy but the views are magnificent ! Good weather is on our side and we got some sweet tunes blowing through our speakers.

Because we were a bit short on time and had so much driving ahead of us we had to skip Glacier NP, a National Park that is high on my list. A great reason to come back here !

A couple hours of driving later we reached Highway 15. We already covered a bunch of miles but had a long way to go before we reached Bozeman, our stop for the day.

We reached Bozeman late in the evening and checked in the Motel 6.

And we crashed.

The next morning our batteries were fully charged again and we explored beautiful historic Bozeman before we continued our drive to get some good breakfast.

And we got what we wished for. It was even better then we hoped for, right on Main Street.

This breakfast place called Main Street Overeasy serves delicious food and drinks. You can also get some lunch there.

Once we filled our tummies we could continue our one and a half hour drive to the North Entrance of Yellowstone, Gardiner.

Into the Wild : Part 2

The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.

The next day I wake up early in the morning, get up and take in the view around me and I continue my drive to Seward along the beautiful ‘Turnagain Arm‘.

I look at the clock and decide to make one of those spontaneous detours. I decide to take the next exit on Highway 1 and that destination turns out to be ‘Hope‘. Hope is a 20 kilometer lonesome road away from the highway. When I arrive in Hope the little town seems to be in a deep sleep. Not a soul in sight. I drive through Main Street and park the car to take some photos.

In the early afternoon I reach Seward. This coast town is located at Resurrection Bay and from the beach you have a magnificent view over the mountains around you. I check in at the Moby Dick Hostel. It’s a basic but decent hostel and decide to spend the remaining two nights of my Alaskan Adventure here.

After I dropped my backpack on my bunk bed I drive to Exit Glacier. As the name says, this is a spot where you see a glacier from real close. You can even hike the entire glacier which takes about six hours.

The next morning is different. I feel it in the air, I can smell it and when I open my eyes I see raindrops splashing against the window in the room.

I join the breakfast table and come to know that the weather won’t get much better for the rest of the day. No worries, I am sure Alaska is still as gorgeous when it pours outside. My e-mails to the home front are overdue anyways so I dedicate my morning to send some messages and Skype with some friends.

When my Polish roommate walks into the room we decide to go visit the Sea Life Center down the road.

On my last day my roommate asks if I could drop him off in Hope. An hour later we arrive in Hope and this time the Sea View Café is open (opens at noon). Inside we find some tables with a the interior that reminds you of your visits to your grandparents. The stove is burning, the smell of soup is spreading through the room and the food tastes delicious.

After a delightful meal I wave my Polish friend farewell and return to Anchorage where I return my car and fly out to Los Angeles.

These five days in the Last Frontier were mind blowing ! Definitely too short and I really hope to come back here one day.

Into The Wild : Part 1

When I was on my flight direction Anchorage I had no clue what I was going to do. I had no plan, no accommodation. Only a plane ticket and a rental car. The greatness of this massive piece of land made me curious and anxious at the same time.

Once I got on board of my flight I tried to close my eyes immediately and catch some sleep. Not much later a mother with a little kid on her lap comes sits next to me. The kid is screaming for dear life and kicks me the first hour of the flight but finds peace eventually. In the meantime the guy in the seat in front of me tilted his chair all the way. I need some sleep !

A few hours later we start our descend into Anchorage.

By now it’s past midnight and most shops are closed already and the car rental office only opens in four hours so I got some time to kill before I can start my journey. These are the cons of a cheap ticket but all worth it. Luckily Anchorage airport has free WIFI and pretty comfy seats to get some sleep.

I close my eyes for a bit and to my pleasant surprise I wake up a couple hours later. I am heading downstairs and pick up the rental and start my drive to Denali National Park.

Once I arrive there I buy myself a ticket for the Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake the next day. This 11 hour drive gives you a good chance to spot some wildlife and is your only way to get this deep into the park (with a motorized vehicle).

Now I still need a place to sleep for the night.

My travel guide recommends the Denali Morning Hostel nearby the park.

Once I arrive there I ring the bell but there is no one around. I notice a sign that says ‘Come look for us in the back’.

I follow the instructions but all I can find are a death silence and a tree filled with shoes.

When I return to the front office I see another guy looking for a way to check in. Not much later the receptionist is arriving with a van filled with guests who came back from the park.

I check in. Shower. Eat a cup of noodles and drag myself to bed at 7.49 PM …

Tomorrow will be a long day and I have to get up around 4 AM for the tour. Once I’m in bed I start noticing how quickly the temperature drops here once the sun is gone.

My alarm goes off and I started smiling as I was really excited for this tour. I felt well rested thanks to going to bed so early last night. I try to put my clothes on in silence and not wake up my roommates. It is freezing cold outside.

I get to my car and drive to the parking lot where the shuttle bus departs from. I booked a seat on the earliest bus of the day so I am back at a descent hour. As soon as we leave the sun starts to rise and we spot our first animals. A herd of moose cross the road like a New Yorker in Manhattan. This makes you realize that the animals rule the park and we are simply visitors.

Further down the road we also spot bighorn sheep, bears, caribous and a coyote. The bus drive takes you through some jaw dropping parts of Alaska and gives you an idea of how huge this Last Frontier is.

The weather is not bad at all but unfortunately not good enough to see Mount McKinley. The highest mountains of the USA is wrapped up in a bunch of clouds today.

A little after 5 PM the bus arrives back at the parking lot and I have still time to drive to Seward, a little town in the south of Alaska.

On my way I make a stop at the Alaska Veterans Memorial and a ranger walks up to me and asks me if I am planning to spend the night here. Knowing it is illegal to do so I told him I was on my way to Seward but he shakes his head is disbelief. I get confused and I probably look dead tired from the last couple days of intensive traveling. The confusion is complete when he asks me if I am under the influence but I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in days. I have no clue what he is after but this is just plain awkward.

I get back into my car and noticed the ranger followed me. I started to get nervous and agitated at the same time. What is his problem ? Half an hour later he gives up and turns around.

That evening I keep driving until midnight and decide it would be better to get some sleep for a few hours. The next morning I would drive along one of the most scenic routes of Alaska, the Turnagain Arm.