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Road Tripping and Peak Bagging

By: Will Babb

I’m lucky enough to have a job at RRT that encourages me to dream big. As a result, I have a bucket list that keeps growing and the opportunity to follow my dreams. My passion for climbing mountains led to the addition of one of my more ambitious goals to that ever-growing list, highpointing. Reaching the highest point in each of the 50 states is an alluring goal, and one that might take a lifetime to reach. It was this goal that led to my most recent adventure, a two week long road trip through the Northeast, climbing several high points in the process.

A twelve hour drive brought us to Adirondack Park in northern New York. My old high school friend, Brian, had somehow been crazy enough to tag along on this trip. We hadn’t talked much in the two years since we’d graduated, but this road trip was a good reason to check a few things off my bucket list and reconnect with an old friend.

Mt. Marcy’s treeless and rocky peak rises above the surrounding peaks and a beautiful green valley. The highest point in New York is a challenging day hike, what proved to be a long 7.5 mile slog up the mountain. A cool, early morning start after an uncomfortable night of sleeping in the car had us on the summit by 11 AM. The climb up hadn’t seemed too difficult despite nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The final half mile of the climb was completely exposed, above the tree line and on barren slabs of rock with jaw dropping views in every direction. The wind whipped across the exposed summit, so Brian and I hunkered behind a boulder for a quick lunch.

I was surprised that I didn’t feel tired after the long climb, but I mistakenly underestimated the mountain before the descent began. If I wasn’t tired at the summit, I was completely exhausted by the time I had staggered the 7.5 miles back to the car, my knees throbbing from the steep, technical descent. Still, by 4 PM we had bagged the first peak of the trip and were driving towards the second.

Somehow, in the brutality of the day’s hike, Brian and I had forgotten how miserable sleeping in the car the previous night had been. As a result, we spent another night in the car, this one at a movie theater parking lot in a small Vermont town. And as had happened before, the 5 AM sunrise woke us up long before our alarm went off.

Even with sore legs, the 3 miles to the summit of Vermont’s highest peak was a breeze. The technical, exposed scramble to the summit was as beautiful as the day before, a reminder of why we climb mountains to begin with. Mt. Mansfield rivaled Mt. Marcy for one of the greatest hikes I’ve ever done, but the road trip had only just begun. Hours later and we were in New Hampshire, where we finally got smart and set up a tent just off the road.

 

I’ve learned after numerous backcountry trips that being flexible is just as important as having a good plan. So after a day of rain disrupted our plans, we set off up Mt. Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire and the highest mountain we’d climb on the trip. After surviving a 15 mile hike on the first day, we incorrectly assumed the 8 mile round-trip of Washington would be easy. Even the “family friendly” Tuckerman’s Ravine trail and Lion’s Head route were steeper and more technical than I had imagined, but I loved every minute of it.

As we climbed higher, again breaking above tree line, fog washed over the mountainside. We continued our climb, the fog growing thicker as we ascended. I figured the summit was close, but visibility was so poor it was impossible to tell. The clouds were so thick it was difficult to see from one cairn to the next, but we managed to find our way to the museum at the summit by mid morning and enjoy a few hours out of the elements.

We’d climbed the highest point of 3 different states in a matter of four days, and now Katahdin and its infamous Knife’s Edge remained. Apparently the allure of the Knife’s Edge appealed to RRT’s own Olivia, because she flew from Cincinnati to Portland, Maine to join a now sufficiently smelly duo. She stunk upon arrival and fit in with this gnarly group.

One would think that this far into the trip Brian and I would’ve learned that our expectations tend to be wrong, but we still hadn’t. You won’t be surprised to hear that we spent another night curled into wildly uncomfortable positions in a parking lot in Maine, and our expectations of pleasant, cool weather in Maine were also wildly wrong. The “pleasantly cool weather” turned out to be the perfect temperature for swarms of bugs in Baxter State Park which tormented us the moment we stepped out of the car. With the bugs so bad, cowboy camping was no longer a good option, so the three of us squeezed into a two person tent and rested for the following day’s hike.

Two miles into the hike up Katahdin we passed tree line, and from then on we were continuously pummeled by heavy winds. Winds that made traversing the bouldery slope very difficult and cumbersome. When arriving at the top of Pamola Peak we regrouped and discussed our options considering the winds were likely to continue and get worse as clouds were rolling in. Brian was weary and decided to turn around with another group of hikers, fearful of the winds and satisfied with his peaks bagged thus far. Olivia and I pressed onward down and up the 60/70 foot saddle-scramble to the Knife’s Edge. Something about the 20-30mph winds was appealing especially on this butter knife. It was technical hiking and the winds made us question our chances of success, but we pressed on despite a narrow margin for error.

After somewhere close to an hour of precarious scrambling, we crouched behind a boulder, out of the wind, for a quick calorie boost. We chose the perfect snack spot because we reached the summit within a few minutes of leaving. It was intensely gratifying to reach the summit, a feeling of accomplishment that is hard to describe. I had first climbed Katahdin via the Hunt Trail almost two years prior, and now was fulfilling a two year dream of summiting Katahdin via the Knife’s Edge Trail. I wasn’t disappointed at all in the lack of a view, I was completely content with standing back on top of a mountain that means so much to me. It was exciting to share the summit with Olivia, but wet weather put an end to our summit celebration. After a few pictures and jumping jacks, we began the long, wet descent.

As temperatures dropped, the combination of wind and rain left rime ice on plants and rocks that added a new challenge to our descent. We traded complaints about sore joints and bruised ankles throughout the four miles back to camp, where we found Brian asleep in the car. With our goal accomplished, we continued our travels the following morning at Acadia National Park.

Sometimes plans fall into place and work out better than you could have imagined. For our trip, Acadia was one of those times. We were lucky enough to stay in an oceanfront cabin owned by a friend of mine just a short drive from Mount Desert Island. We spent our short visit checking out Bubble Rock, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and a serene lighthouse. We also managed to explore Bar Harbor, try out bouldering at Otter Cliffs, and become a kid again at a pirate themed mini golf course. It wouldn’t be a trip to Maine without lobster, so we let our host show us how to properly consume one. I managed to enjoy all the best of Acadia with some great friends and meet up with an old one.

The road trip I had spent months planning and dreaming of had finally arrived and gone by in a blur, and was now nearly over. All that remained was an 18 hour drive in a poorly air conditioned and temperamental ‘99 car back to Cincinnati. We prolonged the trip with an night in Massachusetts to check out a spectacular natural waterfall and enjoy pancakes cooked by former RRT gear expert Louie. Every climb on the trip had been worth the reward at the top and every long stint in the car worth the memories made. The trip had been an absolute blast, less of a vacation and more of an adventure- just how I like it.

My bucket list hasn’t gotten any shorter since that road trip. Truthfully it’s probably longer and growing faster than Pinocchio’s Nose. But even if I never complete a bucket list, that’s not the reason we make them. We make bucket lists so we can go off on adventures we otherwise might not and make memories that aren’t soon forgotten. In the end we realize, as I did somewhere in those wild two weeks, that what’s important isn’t checking goals off a list but enjoying all the time spent outdoors working toward them.

New Zealand Trip Planning Follow-Up

By: Mackenzie Griesser

It’s crazy to think I’ve been back from my trip for a month already! Now that I’ve unpacked all my bags and uploaded all my pictures, it’s time to digest this crazy experience. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours planning every detail possible for this trip and, for the most part, I did a pretty good job! One of my biggest concerns was figuring out what all I’d be allowed to bring into the country. New Zealand has pretty strict customs, but neither me nor my father had any issues coming in. The other major concern I had was just how different it would be there compared to the states. I had a small idea of what to expect but you never really know what a place is like until you go there. Luckily, there weren’t too many major differences and it was easy to adapt to the way things are done down there. My father and I spent 7 days driving through the entire country down the middle of the North Island and the west coast of the South Island. We also spent 2 days backpacking on Stewart Island and 2 days exploring Auckland. Although there were more than enough opportunities for something to go wrong, the trip went smoother expected and blew my mind way more than I thought possible.

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A pretty picture I took on Stewart Island

There were only a couple aspects that I had to leave unplanned because I was unsure what the situation would be like once we got there. First, I knew I couldn’t fly with fuel for my stove and would have to buy some once we arrived. I was not worried about there being a shortage of stores to purchase from, but I hadn’t figured out an exact time and place to go to get it. Luckily we drove through a handful of towns with outfitters before we needed the fuel, so we were able to obtain some no problem, and check out some cool outfitters along the way! The other issue I hadn’t quite figured out yet was how to store our excess luggage before taking off for our trek on Stewart Island. I emailed the company that was providing the shuttle and ferry service and they informed me that there were lockers for rent, but they weren’t very big. Unfortunately they were unable to provide me with exact dimensions, so my dad and I counted on them to be big enough for our duffels and didn’t try to make other arrangements. Upon arriving, we realized the lockers were a little too small for all of our items. Luckily, the ferry terminal was a small office and we were going to return three days later, so they held our two bags in the employee area. However, for future reference, I would not count on this option being available. It was the beginning of Spring in New Zealand when we went, so the busy season for tramping hadn’t begun yet. Later in the season, this probably wouldn’t be an option.

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My dad next to a handy-dandy sign showing nearby hikes

Of course, no vacation is perfect, no matter how well it’s planned! Something always ends up coming up that must be dealt with. The biggest concern of this nature that we experienced on this trip was health-related. My father and I both came down with head colds a few days after arriving (most likely due to the 30+ hours of travel it took to get there). There were a couple times we felt pretty under the weather and decided to go straight to the campground or Airbnb and relax instead of doing the short hike I had planned. Another issue we encountered was a logistical one that was easily figured out. On the long flight out, my father was reading through the “small print” for our rental car reservation and realized we were not allowed to bring the rental car on the ferry from the North to the South Island. Luckily, all we had to do was arrange to drop off our car at the ferry terminal in Wellington and pick up another in Picton on the South Island. This actually worked in our favor because there was a $70 fee to bring a car on the ferry that was refunded when we changed our reservation! The only other issues we encountered were also minor and easy to sort out. First, I somehow traveled to this country not knowing they have completely different outlets! However, we lucked out on our third day and found a hardware store that sold converters- crisis averted. There was also way less internet there than I expected. I knew I wouldn’t have any cellular data, just WiFi, but even that was scarce. And when there was WiFi available, it was very limited. It was an odd but awesome feeling being so disconnected from my friends and what was happening back home. The only time it was an issue was when I was trying to navigate and the solution was simple: download directions while we still had internet! Lucky for us, this issue never became more serious and we avoided getting lost pretty well!

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The giant ferry that runs between the North and South Islands

So far I’ve described the end results of issues I was worried about before departing and discussed the other major issues we encountered on the trip. Now I’d like to talk about the fun stuff- my favorite moments and what surprised me the most about this awesome country! One of the first things I noticed, besides the driving on the left side of the road and roundabouts in lieu of traffic lights, was that the washroom in every place we stayed, with the exception of campgrounds, had a towel warmer! One Airbnb host was floored when I told her this isn’t a thing at all in the states. They are completely commonplace in New Zealand and made the biggest difference! I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of fuel-efficient cars I saw driving around on the North Island; the ratio of compact car to van/SUV/truck was about 85:15. The South Island was a different story. Campervan rentals are a major tourist attraction in this so we saw them everywhere, even though it was barely spring! I can’t even imagine how crowded the more popular areas get with campervans during the busier seasons. Overall this was an incredible trip full of surprises, almost all of them good, and I learned way more than I’ll ever be able to put into words! It was definitely the trip of a lifetime!

If you’re interested in learning more about New Zealand or seeing more  pictures of this beautiful country, stop by the shop Dec. 1 at 7pm for my trip presentation! More details and info can be found on our facebook page.

Road Trippin’

Road Trippin’
Written by: Louie Knolle

If there is one thing in my life that I am proud of, it is that I’ve stood with my toes in the Atlantic in Maine, danced in the splashing, roaring waves of the Pacific in Washington, endured arctic gusts atop some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, and never once have I ridden on an airplane.

Whether it is by necessity or by choice, the road is still the supreme way of travel.  Painted with pictures of gridlocked bumper to bumper traffic, seemingly endless fields of corn, and the ever feared seldom cleaned gas station bathrooms, driving does not have a positive image when it comes to traveling long distances.  But nothing compares to witnessing first hand literally every mile of your journey.  You aren’t plugged into your laptop or smartphone using airplane supplied wifi, there’s no in-flight movie, no attendants to assist at the first signs of discomfort.  In just the past four years alone, I have logged over 28,000 miles of road time driving to the many adventures I have been fortunate to experience.Roadtrip pic 2

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to invoke some anti-air travel movement and inspire a horde of tramping cross-country traveling troubadours armed to the teeth with road maps and mix CDs (as awesome as that would be), but simply making the recommendation to take the opportunity to travel via road if you are given the chance. You will not regret it. The people you meet, the time spent with friends and family, the spur of the moment road side attractions, witnessing people of other cultures out living the same dream, even the discovery of just how resilient you can be when you feel that urge to go in the middle of nowhere and the closest rest stop is still over 50 miles away. I am in no way a doctor, expert, professional travel guide, or anything of the like, I just know what I love. And I love the road.

Few realize these days simply how large our country is. In this “golden” age of near instantaneous communication from anywhere across the globe, it is easy to underestimate just how much country lies in a 3,000 mile span. Sure you can send a text to a friend in California asking how he is and he receives it a mere few seconds later, but to physically arrive there in person? In a modern automotive vehicle, you’re looking at a solid 36 hour drive from our neck of the woods depending on where in Cali they are located. It is in travelling with friends from Europe that I have realized just how alien a concept it is to them that one can drive for 2 straight days and remain in the same country. In their homelands, usually it would take less than half a day to traverse their nations’ borders. I remember in particular the reaction my French friend had when after arriving to Glacier National Park from a 27 hour drive, he was in disbelief having learned it was still another 12 hours or so until we would have actually been on the Pacific Coast. On my last trip in particular, while journeying more than 8,500 miles with 2 friends we encountered expansive grasslands, alpine tundra, arid desert, alpine forest, coastal bluffs, high plains desert, rain forest (yeah you heard me, go to Washington and see for yourself), and whatever you want to call the awesome scenery of the Badlands in South Dakota. All in all, the United States is huge and you should see as much of it as humanly possible while you are able.

Roadtrip pic 3One thing that remains is, how does one prepare for a road trip? The two polar opposite ends of the spectrum are ruthless planning and scrupulously following your itinerary to the “T”, and choosing to go the Bohemian route and go wherever your heart leads you. I usually shoot for a place in the middle with emphasis on freelancing as we go. For example with my most recent trip out west, the plan was easy: Drive to Washington by whatsoever routes we chose each day and arrive back in Cincinnati three weeks later.  By means of car camping and crashing on friends and families’ couches along the way, we spent no more than $5 per person for a night’s rest.  It doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me. We frequented ranger stations, local outfitters, even people we ran out to out on the trails, asking the best sights and hikes in the area, local food suggestions, and on a few occasions the best driving routes from point A to point B. That was actually how we ended up driving one of the most scenic routes of our lives through central Utah when traveling from Arches to Zion. Ask me about it next time you drop by the shop!

Roadtrip pic 4Therefore hence hither thusly in conclusion, drive. The road is and always will be my favorite way to travel. Some have even called it “king”. One of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes about listless wandering is, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” I have so much appreciation for the time I spent traveling, both for all of the things I have seen and experienced, as well as the bits of myself I would have not seen otherwise had I not been traveling for long periods of time. I owe a large part of who I have become to the many opportunities I have been blessed with to be able to go out and experience so many different places in our country. Simply by writing this piece, so many positive emotions and memories have been brought back and I would not have changed a thing. I know my feet are certainly starting to get that familiar itchy feeling, and the only way to cure that is to stretch them out on a path to everywhere.

 

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