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Four days on skis (Norway)

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Day one involved cross country skiing. This is not a thing we do well. We got better.

 

At least there were waffles and beer! Though I think that home brew knocked my internals out of whack.

Our skiing all happened somewhere around here

Day two was also cross country.

 

 

On the third day, we arose from the dead and did some downhill.

Then it was back on the grindstone for more cross country.

This guy had better skis than we did

Fin

Cheers!

After skiing, there is always bubbly!

Shenandoah Bluebells 2019

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The bluebells are peaking in mid-April this year (a bit early), so we are outta here, headed to Norway for more winter. Because we, um, actually we think we’re nuts.

Here are some pictures from the daily walk.

Willie likes Spring

Bluebells by the river (this is our home loop)

The dogs have lost the trail!

The greening of the Blue Ridge has begun

This field smells like honey

Pollen leg is a thing

Footbridge on Wheat Spring Branch

Really Big Trees Near Guernville (Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve)

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Whatever you do, make sure you visit the amphitheater (though this time of year it might have better been called the “amphibian-theater”). Also visit a winery and catch a buzz before you park the car.

The posse

Amy dwarfed by a giant redwood

The band at the crest

Crown

More crown

Hiking the David Joseph State Park (near Jenner, CA)

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On a beautiful Spring day (one of the first for months) we went to the edge of the continent with Uncle Jim and Chloe. Just south of the Russian river is Shell Beach and across Highway 1 from that is a nice set of trails traversing the coastal hills.

All told, we may have hiked 3.5 or 4 miles.

From the Pacific

 

Vernal mud on the trail

 

Spring mushrooms were everywhere (irises too)

 

To the fern forest

Then it was back down to the ocean.

The Blue Mountains: Katoomba, Australia

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A two hour train ride outside of Sydney, you can find the tourist hamlet of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Tourists have been coming here since the turn of the century (1900). Katoomba itself reminds me of West Virginia in its old coal town turned bust turned tourist vibe. You can now find hipsters and artists in residence.

We took the train out in the morning and spent several hours walking from the train station to a trailhead, down the cliff face, and back up again.

Highlights on the mountain visit include the three sisters, the giant stairway (976 steps!), waterfalls, and the steepest railroad in Australia.

We started our morning at Sydney central

The two hour train ride is a little long. The tourist center by the train station is well worth a visit. That is where we finalized our plan.

8things cafe. Great food and super service

Cassiopia coffee (recommended)

We walked from the station to Echo point (2.3 km).

The Echo Point visitors center

This is where we first caught sight of the famed three sisters. Which we saw many times throughout the day.

Three sisters from Echo Point visitor center

Three sisters from the echo point trail

Three sisters from the trail

Three sisters from just above

Honeycomb cave (at the three sisters)

Three sisters from below on the Federal trail

Three sisters from Scenic World gondola

Here’s what happened in between. After honeycomb cave, we entered the giant stairway. Lots of stairs down (976 in fact). Amy did not do them all.

This is an alternative way to get down the stairs (not recommended by our attorney)

Not here

Here

Flowers and bromiliads

Amy

AMY

A tiny fiddlehead against the mountains

Down

Flowers on the mountain

Looking down 500 feet

The blue mountains

Amy contemplates

Cliff hangers

Amy takes the stairs with a monk

Cliff hangers and rare species

Eventually, we entered the rain forrest at the bottom of the cliff.

The giant stairway is well named. It has been there a while.

Rainforest ecology

Amy rounds the bend

Ferns and trail. The rainforest shift is striking

A very big tree indeed

Katoomba Creek falls

After the falls, we were back in what passes as civilization. Scenic world was first contemplated by coal miners. Just take the train thingy up.

And, why not? Try the cable car too.

We walked back from scenic world (another 2.5km). All told we may have hiked around 5 miles. We deserved a beer.

After a long day hiking, it was high time for a beer!

The 2 hour train ride back to Sydney was slightly too long.

Living Art: The Remarkable Little Paradise Art Lodge. New Zealand

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Highway to Paradise

There are magic places in the world, created under intensity so focused that nature absorbs and reflects the power of the creator. The Little Paradise Art Lodge is one of those places.

Put together over 26 years by a Swiss artist who is both intense and incredibly human at the same time, the grounds are nothing short of remarkable.

We were not able to stay during this trip due to a birthday (paradox) conflict. But we will be back for sure. Even a short visit is highly recommended. We stayed for about an hour, enchanted the entire time.

You’ll be caught in the web little tourist

Enter the property

The lodge itself is hand built in such a quirky and delightful and natural way, it is hard to describe. Primitive, and yet so very planet earth.

Bedroom

Bathroom full of skipping rocks

Hand carved headboard

Living table

A couch fashioned from one piece of poplar

Though the lodge is a sight to see, the six acres of curated gardens are astonishing in their willy-nilly natural order.

We have always talked about a tree house like this

Lawnmower

The artist, touched

Fin

How to Milford Sound: Adventure Day in New Zealand

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New Zealand is a wilderness paradise, and Milford Sound is the best of the best.  We set out to do some water-based adventure on one of our days.  It went something like this.

Milford Sound

We started way early.  So early, in fact, that the only person who had breakfast was me.  The morning rendezvous at the water’s edge was set for 8:00am.   The boat that Descend runs is pulled out of the water to load and unload which is kind of interesting.

The sand flies were out in force in the early morning (and repellent, natural or otherwise, just failed to work).  Nevertheless, we tried on our 8 mil wet suits just by the boat on a tarp laid out over the dusty gravel and hopped on the boat while it was still in the parking lot.  Besides the 4 of us, there were two other divers, one of whom was completing a dry suit certification, and 3 crew members. This was Jack’s first dive!

The water in Milford Sound is cold, so three layers on the torso is mandatory.  We looked like a family of space people.

Underwater, Milford Sound is interesting and unique. Many of the species you can see above 22 meters are usually only found much deeper. Because of the ecology of the sound which includes lots of brackish fresh water from the glaciers, black coral has been thriving for centuries and is a sight to behold.

Here are some videos shot by Ben Szulak who was diving in a dry suit. Thanks for sharing Ben!

 

 

 

 

We completed a first dive near seal rock. I had real trouble with my bouyancy and was (as usual) the first diver up. 8 mil suits are floaty and sinky at the same time and the saw tooth was too much for me to control. Eli spent another 15 minutes below.

Amy and Gary underwater

Eli is the only diver with great form in our family

Next, Jack did an assisted dive.

Then we moved on to a second dive location. Eli dove with the dry suit crowd. I did an assisted dive with an instructor that was just incredible. Nothing like worrying about nothing to preserve air.

We passed by the Stirling waterfall on our way in.

Stirling Falls

Family dive

We just had time for a touristy lunch at the Milford Cafe and a walk by the water before it was time to Sea Kayak. We were a bit concerned about the wind, but in the end showed up to don more “gear belonging to other people.” Our guide Ben was a talkative, high energy guy.

Not our usual clothing

Rosco’s sea kayaks take you out on a power boat and you paddle back home. Our crew included two french canadians. We started just past the waterfall at the “usual spot,” and were soon back at the Stirling Falls with time to kayak under them.

Oh, and all of this happened on Thanksgiving day. Our “turkey” dinner was postponed until 10pm when we had lemon, butter, and garlic chicken at Knobs Flat.

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