Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

8 reasons I’m excited to bike across Iowa July 12, 2017

HH_bikeLS52017The countdown for leaving for RAGBRAI to join LIVESTRONG in Iowa is quickly getting smaller as the “BIG day” is almost here (eek!). Some days, I can’t wait for the adventure to begin. Other days…..yeah, well, other days I admit I practice my breathing exercises to remain calm. It’s a lot of darn miles to ride on a bike. But I’ve been riding, a LOT. My leg and knee have, thankfully, felt amazing, and my butt, well, it’s getting there (yep, padded shorts and chamois cream are my best friends).

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This ride will be worth the anxiety and nerves. Because at the end of the day, Team LIVESTRONG is raising a lot of money – more than $120,000 so far! (you can help increase that total by donating here) – for programs and services that support people affected by cancer. And I’m personally excited to prove to myself that a thing like bone cancer causing my femur to be replaced with titanium can’t stop me from biking a few hundred miles to help other cancer survivors. (You can read more about why I’m biking across Iowa in this past blog post)

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As the “BIG day” approaches, there are many aspects of RAGBRAI that I’m excited to experience. Here’s a few things that keep me motivated:

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Raising funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s mission, programs and services – LIVESTRONG offers some outstanding programs for cancer survivors, caregivers and people touched by disease. Whether newly diagnosed or out of treatment, the organization provides support at every point of your journey. From direct services to community programs to school programs and more, I’m grateful to know there is so much available to help others. If you haven’t read their manifesto, you should. These words are so powerful to me – “We believe in life. Your life. We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being. And that you must not let cancer take control of it…..Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.” I was stopped in the airport a few months ago by a woman who noticed my LIVESTRONG shirt and yellow wristband and wanted to share how useful the guidebook and journal were during her cancer journey. I love hearing these stories and am happy to be a part of the organization as a volunteer.

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Team LIVESTRONG (aka “my tribe”) – I’m most excited to hang out with this team, my team, my friends, my yellow family. We all start with the common bond of this terrible disease, as cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and friends of cancer survivors, family members and friends who have lost someone to cancer. It doesn’t matter what circumstance brought us together, we have a bond. In addition to this bond that ties us together, these are good people who find many ways to fight against the disease. They commit to spending a week on a bike, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs to support others. So no one has to face cancer alone. I’m already in awe of them, and humbled and honored to be part of their team.

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The people I ride for – While there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think of being a cancer survivor in some way, there is also never a day that goes by that I don’t think of the many other people who are also cancer survivors or died from this disease. My dad is always in the forefront of my mind, as I miss him daily. I’ve said good bye to too many people because of this disease, many of them way too young (since I was diagnosed at 21 and treated in pediatrics). I’ve also been blessed to have met thousands of cancer survivors in the past 20 years, all of whom reinforce that our fight against this disease is far from over. So throughout that week, and always, these people will be in my heart and mind.

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The cycling jerseys – Let’s not stereotype – I know it sounds like a girl thing to focus on clothing but that’s not my intent (and, trust me, not all cycling jerseys are fashionable). LIVESTRONG designed an awesome team jersey that we’ll all be wearing on the first and last day to help raise awareness of the organization and team. Then, we’ll wear our tribute jersey, designed in memory of the wife of one of our team members who died from cancer, featuring some of her favorite things. I also have a cool Michigan jersey (that would the state of Michigan, not university…I bleed maroon and gold, friends) and some other fun options. I like seeing the variety of jerseys that others wear. And, okay, yes, you might as well look good if you’re biking 50+ miles in the Iowa heat (or any heat).

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Garmin_LSbandMy personal goal/peace of mind/’take that, stupid cancer’ – I shared in a previous blog the challenges, physical and mental, I face as a bone cancer survivor. Super grateful to be alive and have both of my own legs. But unable to fully quiet the whispers of doubt, frustration and insecurity in my physical limitations from the titanium rod in my leg. I’ll be honest…this training is certainly a good source of confidence building. This experience has also shown me how many people have more faith in my ability than I do. So sometimes I simply need to remind myself that I survived cancer and can do anything I put my mind to. Including bike across Iowa. I’m proud of myself for taking on this challenge and for all of the training and focus I’ve put into it. I get so nervous about hurting my leg that sometimes I forget to simply enjoy the activity or moment. Enough with the doubt and anxiety, it’s time to kick some ass and remind myself who’s in charge of my attitude.

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Biking – Despite the nerves at biking so many miles for multiple days, I’m really looking forward to being on my bike. I love Ruby (my road bike for those who haven’t met her) and the more I ride, the more I enjoy biking. The freedom, the satisfaction of a great workout on my legs, different places to explore on a bike, new people you interact with on the road, adventures in the making. I’m also excited to ride with so many people from LIVESTRONG, getting to know them better and making memories to hold dear for decades to come.

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Meeting people – It may not surprise you that I talk to people almost everywhere I go (like mother, like daughter. Right, Mom?). Isn’t this one of the beauties of life – learning about all walks of life from a variety of people? You never know who you may meet or what you may learn from others. There will be thousands of people at this event from all across the country so there are bound to be some great encounters!

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Exploring Iowa – I love to travel and explore new places (and old!). Plus, my grandma was born and raised in northern Iowa, my mom spent summers at the family farm and my family took some vacations to the state when I was a young child. So I feel a little kinship to the state. 🙂

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If you’d like to support LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people with cancer, click here to donate to my fundraising page. For every $10 donation increment, you’ll be entered to win a Michigan themed gift bag!

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10 things to love about Alaska August 16, 2016

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 4:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
KenaiGlacierAK_hh2009

Alaska is beautiful!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several friends and acquaintances who mentioned they are planning to visit Alaska. It brings back memories of my amazing trip several years ago to this great state. I was fortunate to have two friends move to Alaska and extend an invitation to visit. Never one to turn down the chance to travel and create new adventures, I took them up on the invitation (along with my friend, Marie) to visit our biggest state!

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My friends lived in Anchorage so we decided to spend our seven-day trip exploring that area, as well as traveling south to Kenai National Forest and Seward. We weren’t disappointed as this area is breathtaking, full of great places to explore and wonderful people to meet. The natural beauty of Alaska stunned me every time I turned my head.

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As the 49th state of the United States, Alaska has the largest coastline (over 6,600 miles) with more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes! Of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S., 17 are in Alaska (Denali is the tallest in the U.S. at 20,320 feet above sea level). Alaska was always the state that I’d love to visit because I love the outdoors but admittedly it wasn’t high on my list (and I can’t remember why!). Until the opportunity to visit arose and I realized what a great experience this would be! Everything kind of fell into place for our trip and soon we were heading to Anchorage. We traveled to Alaska in mid-August when the weather is fairly mild and daylight extends until close to midnight (which was a bit weird to my body that couldn’t figure when it was time to sleep).

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There were so many moments that I loved. It’s hard to describe the beauty and respect you feel about the land unless you’re standing in front of the water watching a bald eagle catch a fish or a moose eating alongside the road or looking down into a valley from atop a glacier field. Alaska reminds you that the world is so much grander than what we truly know. It reminds you that nature is awesome and should be respected, and man can appreciate it and live in it.

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There is so much to remember about that trip so I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about Alaska:

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Close but not too close!

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1. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Portage): This center offers a permanent home to orphaned and injured animals that can’t be released into the wild. You can see animals, such as bears, moose and eagles in up-close, natural environments. Special programs let you watch certain animals be fed (we watched the black bears eat…..definitely don’t want to encounter a hungry bear!). This center provides a great opportunity to learn about a variety of animals.

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2. Camping in Kenai Fjords National Park (Seward): Alaska hosts more than half of our national park lands with 17 national parks. Kenai is one of the beauties. We started the day with a boat tour. While we didn’t see the whales we were hoping to, we did see a lot of wildlife and a few glaciers. More than 50 percent of this park is covered in glaciers! We pitched our tent along a river with views of glaciers – certainly don’t get those views in Michigan!

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Hiking the glacier field (with my bear bell!).

3. Exit Glacier hike (in Kenai Fjords National Park): It was still light at 8pm when we set up camp in Kenai so we started a hike to Exit Glacier, which is part of the Harding Icefield. A series of trails start at the Exit Glacier Nature Center that allow you to check out different views of the glacier. We were able to get close enough to the glacier to hear it shifting. At one point, we saw cracks forming as the ice shifted (we were safely away; it was so cool!). This was an eye-opening hike as there are signs along the trail that mark the glacier’s recession over the past 120 years. It is glaringly obvious that the ice is quickly melting away.

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4. Flattop Mountain Trail: It’s no surprise that this is Alaska’s most visited peak – the location near Anchorage makes it easy to access and the beautiful views are addicting. We hiked to the top and it was worth the views. The trails are busy though, with some steep drops down the side, so don’t be in a rush (although in a beautiful place like Alaska, you shouldn’t be in a rush!). Some of the trails had an abundance of blueberries but, while we sampled a few fresh fruits, we left the bulk for the bears to eat. Better to let them eat the food way up high rather than wander into the populated towns.

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5. Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage): I love learning about the history of places that I visit so was happy that we found this cultural center and museum focused on Alaska’s indigenous people. There were some great exhibits featuring five different local cultures. We were able to watch some live programs and see hands-on demonstrations.

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6. Alaska SeaLife Center (Seward): This is another great opportunity to see Alaska’s animals up close and personal. We saw lots of marine mammals, fish, birds and invertebrates. You also get to learn about the research and conservation being undertaken in the state. When we visited, there was a fascinating, albeit sad, exhibit on the long-term effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. We really need to appreciate and protect our natural habitats more than we do.

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Hiking part of the Iditarod trail!

7. Winner Creek Trail: One of the best parts of this trail in the Chugach Mountains is that you hike through the northernmost rainforest in North America…while in Alaska! The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska and is a fun hike because of the cool vegetation and experiences. First, you cross a wooden bridge over the Winner Creek Gorge. Then you get to a hand tram where you get inside a metal cage and pull yourself over Glacier Creek, more than a hundred feet below! I’m not going to lie – this took guts for me to do (I dislike heights, especially in a rickety-feeling metal cage!), but it was awesome (once over!)! This trail is also part of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Alaska’s only National Historic Trail. At the end of this hike, we stumbled upon a great little coffee and book shop.

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8. Seward Highway: This 125-mile highway goes from Anchorage to Seward and is worth noting because the drive is So.Darn.Beautiful. The highway runs through the Kenai Peninsula, Chugach National Forest, Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains, which caused me to turn my head in pretty much every direction, exclaiming, “oh how beautiful” every 90-seconds. Or hang my mouth open in awe over the views!

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9. Seafood: I wasn’t a big seafood fan until I visited Alaska. I guess it just wasn’t fresh enough. Our friends welcomed us with a delicious scallops dinner, then we were introduced to several friendly Alaskans at a neighbor’s dinner complete with fresh grilled salmon (and Alaskan craft beer!). I indulged a few more times on fresh seafood during my visit. And I haven’t tasted it that good since the trip.

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Portage Glacier field

10. Portage: When the Great Alaska Earthquake occurred in 1964, the ground sank below sea level causing a ‘ghost forest’ of trees. These ghostly looking trees are very eery and amazing. Some of the original buildings can still be seen. Definitely worth a stop to explore the past. The wildlife conservation center and Portage Glacier are popular spots to visit here.

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This trip was also a great reminder that the people you travel with can truly make or break a trip. I had an amazing trip, mostly due to the wonderful friends who shared the experience with me. Even when we hit our exhausted phase due to the time change and busy schedule, we spent most of the day laughing and being silly rather than cranky (who likes to be cranky on vacation?!). We giggled while swapping stories every night before falling asleep. When I got frustrated because my titanium rod forced me to turn around on a slippery glacier trail, my friend soon had me laughing and focused on all that I was accomplishing while I reciprocated in her moments of needed humor.

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Alaska is one of our country’s treasures and I highly recommend you visit!

HH_AK moose2009

How often do you see moose on the side of the road?

 

8 local outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy April 10, 2016

Michigan experienced a taste of spring recently with sunshine and temps in the 50s. Then winter decided to pop back in (I’m watching the snow fall outside my window). I already mentally switched my seasonal preference to spring so I hope the snow melts quickly.

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I’ve been thinking of some fun warm-weather outdoor activities to plan with my nieces and nephew. I love that they also enjoy the outdoors, love my time with them and love that we have so much fun together. I’m so excited to get moving on these ideas. Rather than get annoyed with the white weather, I thought I’d daydream of picnics, floppy hats and sunscreen while I share some family-friendly (and couple-friendly, group-friendly, etc.) suggestions for outdoor fun (these are of course fun with and without children!). If you’re not local to metro Detroit, I’m sure there are some great local trails, parks and cultural hot spots near you. Feel free to share your ideas in the comment section!

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kidstrail1. Hike the local trails: One of my 2016 goals is to hike all 13 of the parks in the Huron-Clinton metroparks system. Stony Creek tends to be my go-to park because of its location to my home, but each of these parks offers something new, pretty and fun. There are also many community parks, nature centers and more that provide great opportunities to wander in the woods.

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2. Bike the trails: All of the kids are old enough for bike rides and a few of us own bike racks for the vehicles so I think it will be fun to take the group to the Macomb Orchard Trail, Clinton River Trail and/or Paint Creek trail. These rails-to-trails paths are the perfect place to bike without too much traffic to interrupt your journey. My regular readers know my love of these local bike trails, whether alone or with company.

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3. Matthaei Botanical Gardens: Located in Ann Arbor, these expansive gardens include beautiful examples of nature and multiple display gardens (children’s gardens, bonsai samples and more). There are also hiking trails. The gardens connect to the Nichols Arboretum, which is worth a visit too.

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4. Greenfield Village: This unique village spans more than 80 acres, highlights 83 historic structures separated into seven districts, and offers plenty of cool opportunities to see history come to life. There are numerous events and activities occurring throughout the year at Greenfield Village, which makes the village get pretty crowded, so sometimes I just enjoy wandering on a ‘regular’ day where there is always something to see and learn. Summer is not complete to me without a visit to Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford Museum is connected to Greenfield Village and worth the exploration.

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5. Camping: The youngest three kids first experienced camping last fall and the 9-year-old is still talking about how fun it was to share a tent with just me! We’re discussing a getaway to Sleepy Hollow State Park, where I really enjoyed the clean, quiet, good-size campsites. There are also many more local campgrounds, including Proud Lake Recreation Area and Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area.

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Logging their first geocache!

6. Geocaching: This scavenger hunt type activity uses GPS-enabled devices to locate hidden caches (or treasures!) throughout the world. There are many hidden caches in metro Detroit, ranging from easy to very difficult, covering all sorts of terrain (from parks to street lights!). I’ve taken the older two girls geocaching and they had a blast. The younger ones are antsy to see what it’s like so we’ll for sure go hunting this summer!

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7. Thelma G. Spencer Park: My family has been visiting this 113-acre Rochester Hills recreation area since I was a child. A 38-acre lake surrounded by beaches, picnic areas, activity areas, concession stand and more, Spencer Lake is a popular, family-friendly spot. Walking trails also surround the lake.

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8. Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad: This historic village set in Flint brings back memories of my youth when we made numerous visits to this cultural attraction. Crossroads Village is an authentic Great Lakes town from the turn of the last century that contains more than 34 historic structures, amusement rides, a carousel, and more! You won’t want to visit the village without taking a ride on the Huckleberry Railroad, which is made up of 11 original and replica passenger cars, a red wooden caboose and a restored coal-fired locomotive. The 40-minute ride goes through woods and meadows, and along a lakeshore. There are lots of activities throughout the summer season so this is definitely a must-visit location.

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There are SO many more fun activities to do during the warm, sunny weather season! What favorite summer activities are you looking forward to doing?

 

Heading indoors to discover nature at Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center March 3, 2016

Did you know?*

  • There are more than 13,000 miles of trails in Michigan.
  • There are more than 3,000 water trails in Michigan.
  • The Great Lakes hold 21 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, about six quadrillion gallons!
  • Thirteen native species of frogs and toads call Michigan home.
  • Michigan has 102 state parks.
  • You can see the Great Lakes from space!
  • More than 1,000 gallons of water are wasted each year for every one drop of water that drips every two seconds from a pipe or faucet.
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MIOAC_mefire 22016_HH

I love campfires.

These cool facts are a few of the many things that we learned when visiting the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit. Created by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, this 41,000-square-foot building brings some very cool aspects of our state’s outdoor recreation opportunities inside so residents can discover and experience nature.

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I’ve been itching to visit the center ever since it opened in 2015. So it was a clear, crisp Saturday that we headed to Detroit to learn about Michigan’s outdoors while indoors. I am an avid fan of outdoor recreation, from hiking to biking to camping to fishing…and more. Even I was in awe of the many details and points of interest included in this center. There are multiple exhibits and hands-on displays that take visitors from under the water to land to the sky. I learned a lot about our great state!

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Visitors learn how the Detroit River and the Great Lakes are connected and play key roles in fishing, shipping and recreation activities. Then you ‘go underwater’ to learn about native and invasive species, and the many opportunities to fish.The Belle Isle Aquarium hosts a tank filled with various species of live fish. We then wandered through a yurt, a circular tent with a solid floor, door and minimal furniture (this is a great alternative for tent camping) and learned about Michigan’s state parks.

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MIOAC_meKayak 22016_HH

Fun kayaking through this display!

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The next display let visitors get into a fishing boat, cast some lines and reel in fish via an interactive screen. I kayaked one of Michigan’s many rivers (these interactive displays are so cool!). Did you know that Michigan has 150 waterfalls? I didn’t know this! We walked behind a real waterfall and learned more about fish and amphibians. A short ‘underground’ cave shared information about mining and the importance of bats to our ecosystem.

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We visited the sand dunes and glimpsed at a duck blind. I loved the campsite set up in the middle of the lower level. From a tent to a water pump to campfire and chairs, it was so realistic of what camping is and perfect to let visitors sample the fun. There are many ways to camp in Michigan – car camping (car is on site), rustic camping, backpacking, cabins, yurts and more.

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We learned about Michigan’s abundant forests, checked out a 35-foot tall oak tree and looked into a black bear den. I will admit that when I first poked my head into the den I was startled to see such a realistic looking bear sleeping in the corner (no worries, it is not alive)!

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On the second level, there is a suspension bridge, small plane to highlight the importance of the DNR’s work in the sky and exhibits highlighting the various hunting and trapping ways. There were some fun interactive displays that let you ride a snowmobile, mountain bike and off-road vehicle on trails. A small home model showed the major environmental benefits that small adjustments can make in water conservation and more.

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One of the many ‘animals’ we met.

Throughout the exhibits were animals, from bears to deer to frogs to bats to ducks and more. These life-like animals were placed in all the right spots as you walked through the displays. More than once I was startled to come upon a squirrel or lizard! I loved it!

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On a side note, the Outdoor Adventure Center is in the historic Globe Building, which was the site where many steam engines were built for passenger and freight ships. The Detroit Dry Dock Engine Works (later the Detroit Shipbuilding Company) was the company that Henry Ford served as an apprentice. There is an interesting exhibit highlighting the history of the building and these companies, including a model of the Boblo boat (many metro Detroit residents will remember that boat!)

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As we wandered through the center, I was so pleased to see many families discovering the exhibits together. Adults and children were enjoying the displays and interactive exhibits. I heard many laughs and conversations discussing the facts highlighted in displays.

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A cool campsite!

I really enjoyed exploring this center. It shows off so many different opportunities for people of all ages to be outside in nature. I’m proud that Michigan offers so much diverse outdoor recreation adventures to residents, encouraging people of all ages, backgrounds and location to get outdoors for fun and healthy living.

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One important message that I took away from the visit is that all of us can help protect our land and water. Whether it’s volunteering to track frogs, reporting illegal hunting, planting a garden to attract butterflies, recycling, picking up trash on a trail (and not being the one to litter!), or educating the next generation on the importance and fun of being outdoors, everyone can do something positive to help our home. I believe change starts with just one person. Let that person be you.

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The Outdoor Adventure Center is located on Atwater Street in downtown Detroit (across from the riverfront walk and William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor). Admission is $5 for adults; children 2-12 and senior citizens are $3. Free parking is available next to the building. Click here for hours and directions.

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*Source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

 

Family camping trip near Lake Huron September 1, 2015

What a view!

What a relaxing view!

I enjoy camping, especially in Michigan where we have some of the best parks and campgrounds. You really don’t have to drive far to find a campground. Most campgrounds have plenty of options for pitching tents, parking a trailer/camper, or even renting rustic cabins to sleep in if you prefer to be off the ground.

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My older sister, niece, cousin and their friends plan an annual camping trip. This year, my sister invited the rest of the family (read some reasons why I enjoy camping). It was the first camping trip for my younger sister, husband and three young kids. My husband couldn’t make the trip, so between the rest of us, plus our cousin and sister’s friend, there were 11 of us heading to Port Crescent State Park in Port Austin. The 640-acre park sits on Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. There are 142 modern campsites with electrical hookup and a new camper cabin that sleeps six.

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From the metro Detroit area, it’s a nice, relaxing drive to Port Austin/Caseville in Michigan’s “thumb.” You eventually start passing farmland, vegetable stands and small towns. I made it to Port Crescent State Park in approximately two hours.

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The campground was hit with a big storm the night before so everyone was drying out their campsite, including tents, sleeping bags, clothes, wood and more. My mom and niece had to take a bunch of stuff to the laundromat to dry (some of them arrived a few days earlier). When I arrived, though, the sun was out and a decent wind off of Saginaw Bay was keeping the gray clouds moving.

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Port Crescent is a nice campground – I like the wooded sites and well-maintained grounds and bathroom areas. The campground has several access points to the three miles of sandy beach along the Great Lake’s Saginaw Bay. There is also a play structure for kids, as well as the ability to borrow games, books and movies.

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Making sure this is where we want to sleep!

Making sure this is where we want to sleep!

My sister reserved two campsites for our group that offered a spectacular view of the bay. I waited for the younger kids to arrive so they could help me pitch my REI Quarter Dome Plus tent. This backpacking tent is easy to set up, even alone. But I thought it would be fun for my nieces and nephew to help since they’ve never before done it. I went over steps to pitch the tent: I showed them how to choose a spot on the campsite to place the ground cover, then lay on it to look up (make sure no big branches are hanging over the tent in case of a storm that might cause the branch to fall) and also make sure you’re not laying on uneven ground because that very quickly gets uncomfortable. We then spread the tent on the ground cover and connected the pole sections. This tent is color-coded so as long as you can tell the difference between gray and orange, you can connect the poles to the tent! We easily staked the tent and added the rain fly. I usually stake the tent last as it’s easier to move the location or make adjustments if necessary.

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My 8-year-old niece wanted to sleep in the tent with me so we unpacked our sleeping pads and bags, as well as her multiple stuffed animals who also wanted to experience camping. My mom and I then took the kids on a walk around the campground and to the beach on Lake Huron. It was awesome to feel the fresh breeze and cool water! I always love walking through a campground as you often encounter friendly people, and I love watching people having fun together outside.

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Back at the campsite, we ate lunch, then had a fun dance party and limbo contest. When it was time to start a campfire, we sent the kids to forage for firewood and kindling. This provided a fun distraction/game for them, plus helped them feel a part of the campfire process. One tip I’ve learned is to wander the empty campsites in the morning. Many campers will pack up their belongs and leave the leftover firewood in or around the fire pit. And of course the tree branches, pine cones, and dry needles provide great kindling and tinder.

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Making yummy scrambled eggs at the campsite.

Making yummy scrambled eggs.

In the evening, we enjoyed s’mores and stories around the campfire. The next morning was very windy and chilly, but thankfully the clouds moved on by mid-morning and we had a beautiful summer day to enjoy. We enjoyed scrambled eggs, made by adding eggs and other ingredients in a plastic bag, clipped and placed in boiling water for 15 minutes. It’s an easy meal to make, with easy clean up (making it even better!).

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Cheeseburger Festival was occurring in Caseville so a group of us piled into vehicles and drove the short distance to Caseville. It was packed! There was music playing, lots of booths displaying jewelry, toys, clothing and more for sale, plus many food stands to purchase burgers, fresh lemonade, dessert and more.

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Back at the campsite, the kids and their parents went swimming in the lake, while the rest of us relaxed around an early campfire. Dinner was homemade pizzas, which was fun for all of us to make as we got to choose our own ingredients, then cook on a camp stove. These were delicious! The kids especially enjoyed making their own.

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Saturday morning, we visited the farmers’ market in Port Austin. Lots of vendors set up food booths to sell vegetables, fruit, honey, seasonings and more. There is also a flea market with many booths selling a variety of items, from furniture to candles to purses/bags to clothing.

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All too soon, it was time to pack up camp and go home. I wished I would have had time to hike the nearby trails or go geocaching, but overall it was a fun experience camping as a family. We all agreed we will do it again, and possibly longer. Since both adults and kids enjoyed it, we’ll chalk it up to a successful trip!

Enjoying nature!

Enjoying nature!

 

5 reasons to enjoy camping August 28, 2015

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 4:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

5Reasonstocamp

Last week, my family and I went camping (more to come on that experience). I’m sad to admit it’s been a while since I’ve slept in the great outdoors and when I snuggled into my sleeping bag, I realized that I have missed the experience.

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Some people are surprised to find I like hiking and camping. I guess I don’t come across as the ‘outdoorsy’ type of girl if you meet me in certain situations. But just because I can rock a dress and heels doesn’t mean I can’t pull off a pony tail and dirt under my nails! There is something about being in the great outdoors that soothes my soul. Remove the traffic congestion, row upon row of houses, and several hundred people in a condensed location, and the world gets a little less crazy. Of course I also enjoy the luxuries of technology, a house to come home to, and more. I won’t pretend I don’t. But it’s so nice to step away at times, breathe in some fresh air, soak up the soft sounds of birds and the swaying trees, relax the mind. There are a lot of reasons I like to camp (and admittedly a few reasons I get ready to come home). Here are my top ones:

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1. Anyone can camp. Seriously, you can. It doesn’t matter your background, financial status, education, relationship status, gender, or age. Even physical ability tends to matter less – yes, it helps to be in shape when on a rigorous backpacking trip but tent camping near your car is fairly easy for most people. Even I have accomplished some cool backpacking trips with a titanium rod for a femur. I feel that people become equals when they pitch a tent.

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A visit to Cuyahoga Valley, OH - one of my fav SOLAR trips

2. I learned to embrace another part of me. I love being a woman and feminine. In my job, I’m focused and professional. And yes, I prefer to shower daily but I’ve learned to relax (why else did man invent baby wipes and hair ties?). I do find it funny when I think of the thousands of hours spent at a horse barn….my best days were spent riding horses, cleaning stalls, pitching hay and polishing tack. I guess when you’re doing what you love, dirt and sweat cease to matter. I feel that way about being outdoors.

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3. There is so much to learn. I joined an outdoor club years ago to make new friends who also enjoy outdoor activities (and I was blessed to meet some amazing people). The club teaches some classes to help people learn new skills. While I knew some of the basics, it was due to watching others do the activities. I wanted to learn to do these by myself. So I learned to build a fire, filter water for safe drinking, pack a backpack to meet my limitations of carrying weight (due to the rod in my leg), use a variety of camp stoves, cook a menu of easy meals, and much more. I learned that my leadership skills easily transferred to group situations in the outdoors. And I learned that everyone, from the small child to retired person, has something to contribute.

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4. It builds confidence. While it was fun and great to learn the skills listed above and more, the most important thing I learned is that I can take care of myself. I’d prefer not to be in the woods alone unless it’s a planned solo outing, but I know I have the basic survival skills. Ever since my cancer surgery put restrictions on weight I can carry and activities I can do, I’m often self-conscious about not being able to fully participate in activities or needing someone else to pick up my slack. Having confidence in other skills lets me feel like I’m an active member of the group. Shortly after I joined the outdoor club, I helped teach a backpacking class. My intention had been to meet new people but I quickly realized I could actually teach people some new skills! I particularly found myself gravitating to women who might not be eager to trust themselves in the wilderness or who needed encouragement in embracing their wild side. I mean, really, who likes to poop in the woods? Sometimes we all need some support.

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With the right company, it's always fun being outdoors!

The weather matters less when you have good company.

5. With the right company, every trip is fun. I’ve enjoyed some awesome adventures in the outdoors. From camping throughout Michigan to Montana to Alaska, my memories span. While the weather hasn’t been fabulous every single moment, the company thankfully has been. My husband and I have some of our best conversations by the campfire and on the trail, even the time we thought we were lost (we weren’t!). When it rained for hours during a backpacking trip to South Manitou Island, three of us girls told stories and giggled the entire time in our tent. Despite misty, chilly temps one day in Alaska, my friend and I pulled on rain gear and had an amazing time “meeting” animals at a conservation center. Who you’re with can make or break a trip. Choose wisely. And don’t discount the fun and adventure of solo camping. There are great benefits to taking some time to yourself. Plan appropriately to ensure safety when you’re traveling alone.

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What are your reasons to enjoy camping?

 

Getting back to nature September 16, 2011

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 12:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

After not camping once this summer (seriously, where did time go?? Please give it back if you find it), I desperately needed to get away from the city for a few days. Some place with nature, hiking trails and fresh air. So I decided that the

"Little Sleepy" greets park visitors at the campground office.

weekend of my birthday would be a perfect time to indulge my wish.

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Michigan has tons of great campgrounds so the big decision was where to go. We decided to car camp rather than backpacking so it came down to familiar campground or new adventure? In the midst of a web search unrelated to camping, Sleepy Hollow State Park appeared (funny how that happens, huh?). I liked that there were modern campsites (ie, bathrooms/showers), more than 11 miles of hiking trails, a lake and it was less than two hours from home. And it was a new location, thus a new adventure for both of us (ie, Justin and me).

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Sleepy Hollow State Park is located outside of East Lansing, just off US-127 near St. Johns and Laingsburg. It sits on 2,600 acres, has 11 miles of hiking/biking trails and 6.5 miles of horse trails. Lake Ovid is in the center of the park and has a nice beach area, plus picnic shelters for park visitors. The lake is non-motorized so perfect kayaking and canoeing. We saw a guy getting ready to snorkel from the beach! There is also a 18-hole disc golf course. I think it is very cool that Sleepy Hollow State Park is a “Green Park Initiative” meaning there are recycling bins at the entrance to the campgrounds….so no throwing away plastics, cardboard, etc. Kudos to Michigan’s DNR.

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An electrical outlet on every site makes coffee drinkers happy

 I was impressed with the campgrounds. There are 181 campsites separated onto North campground and South campground. Each campground has a modern bathroom building and 14 water stations scattered throughout the campsites. The bathrooms were relatively nice (for a campground bathroom); most importantly, clean and well-maintained. In fact the rangers told us they clean twice daily. My only complaint is that there wasn’t paper towel nor a dryer in the bathroom. It was a little annoying to shake your hands semi-dry every time you visited the bathroom. There were plenty of showers (decent size), although we both showered at off-peak (ie, afternoon/evening) hours so that probably helped with hot water and availability.

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The campsites were spacious and well-maintained. Most of the sites were surrounded by tall bushes and trees, providing some privacy from the campground road and neighbors. Campsites are set up for either tents or a RV, with an asphalt drive on each. This was nice, although you might be challenged to have enough grass with more than one tent (it depends on the location of the fire ring). There is also a fire ring, picnic table and electric outlet on individual sites. The campsite was perfect for our small tent, two chairs, cooler and Ford Escape. (note: bring a mallet to pound tent stakes in as the ground was HARD)

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The one noticeable quality of the campground….quiet. Perhaps it was because we went after Labor Day when most

Good timing for us!

people are focusing on fall, school and not traveling. Whatever it was, it was wonderful for us. There were families throughout the campground but the only time we really noticed was Sunday when the 3-year old at the site next to us started whining incessantly for about an hour. Then they left and peace resumed. Otherwise the weekend was quiet and peaceful.

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Evidence of Mother Nature’s good mood was the awesome weather. It briefly rained Friday night while we were sleeping but we woke to bright sunlight and blue skies. We set off on a hike to explore the park. The trails are well-maintained and have good markers. You definitely need bug spray and sunscreen. We hiked through woods, fields and along the lake. Surprisingly, we had the trails to ourselves most of the time; which was very nice to enjoy nature, birds and our conversations. It always strikes me the really good conversations you can have on the trails, sometimes serious and in-depth, other times random thoughts about sports and when that particular branch might have fallen over in the woods.

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After the morning hike, we returned to the campsite for lunch, relaxed a bit, then took off to explore more trails. Working up an appetite, we grilled turkey brats and veggies on the camp stove my cousin lent us. Then it was time to

Great trails + great weather = happy hikers

settle in for a campfire, drinks and of course s’mores! We were treated every night to a bright, full moon that made you pause in your step to admire it from afar.

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There is something special about being “away in nature.” You actually hear birds, feel the breeze, sense a greater world surrounding you. Several times I would look up at the stars or bright  moon, or sit quietly by the tent, Justin beside me, and feel so grateful for life and my time with him. Our lives are much too busy and filled with responsibilities away from each other that these few days together were a precious gift to me. We laughed, talked about small and big subjects, listened, held hands, were goofy and focused on our time together.

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The next day was a repeat of Saturday with breakfast, hikes, lunch and relaxing. We noted the number of campers compared to tents. We certainly saw the value in such a vehicle as we woke with stiff backs and knees from sleeping on pads and bags. However, I was surprised, and admittedly a little disappointed and annoyed at the number of satellite dishes and televisions that populated the campground. Really? You can’t get away from television for one day, miss one football game so you can spend time with your family and enjoy the world around you?

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S'mores are a must when camping!

 We spent a lot of time exploring the campground and state park property. I was impressed and liked the campground enough that I would definitely return. In fact, we’re already thinking of a fun outing next summer with family and friends. There is just something about sitting in the great outdoors that makes you appreciate a little bit more what God gave us and life in general.

 

 
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