Heather's Hangout

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

Biking Belle Isle Park in Detroit November 6, 2016

hh_bikebelleisleI’m in love. With this mild, sunny weather. The beauty of nature. My new road bike. Life. I accomplished so very little responsibility-wise this weekend because I indulged myself with outdoor activities. We all need weekends to splurge and live life to the fullest, right? Yep, I think so too.

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I kept having this great idea all summer to take my bike downtown to Belle Isle Park but it seems like the months flew by and it never happened. So I was tickled with the mild temps and sunshine that graced metro Detroit the past few days. I’ve been able to get outside on my new road bike and I decided (at about 3am during a bout of insomnia) that today would be a great day to head to Belle Isle.

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I arrived on the island a little before 9am, instantly in awe of nature’s beauty appearing all over Belle Isle. Seriously, Mother Nature isn’t messing around this fall with the vibrant colors splashed all over Michigan. I biked throughout Stony Creek Metropark yesterday, loving the deep fall colors on trees and bushes.

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Belle Isle is located on the Detroit River between the United States and Canada. My sister and I visited Belle Isle last spring to explore the aquarium and conservatory (read my blog about that visit). These are worthwhile destinations if you’ve never been. While the city of Detroit still legally owns the 985-acre island, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources began operating Belle Isle a few years ago, making it Michigan’s 102nd state park. A lot of maintenance occurred and I was impressed with the cleanliness, nicely paved roads (except for the two small pot holes I narrowly avoided in the bike lane!) and several patrol cars seen driving around the island.

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I had so much fun riding around the state park. I arrived early enough that hardly anyone was there yet, which made biking all the better. There was strong wind along one end of the island that provided some serious resistance but, once I pushed through that and rounded a curve, my legs felt relief and my speed increased. A good friend tells me that my speed and strength will increase with practice so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m on limited time with biking outdoors since crappy weather is too risky with the titanium rod in my leg. But it wasn’t crappy today so I enjoyed every minute I was outside on my bike. I pushed myself on several loops around the island, then rewarded myself by cruising around taking pictures. I decided that I can’t share just one or two photos because it was so pretty everywhere I looked! I hope you enjoy one of Michigan’s gems.

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Exploring outdoor spots in metro Detroit September 5, 2016

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My ‘deer’ friend hiked with me!

It’s always a little amusing to me when so many people complain that Labor Day weekend is the ‘end of summer.’ The end of the summer season doesn’t actually occur until fall starts at the end of September (Sept. 22 this year). And while I understand that teachers and students must return to work and the classroom, those activities do not mean it’s the end of summer for everyone.

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Since the end of summer doesn’t happen for a few more weeks (and Mother Nature appears to agree since Michigan is expecting temps in the upper 80s this week), I have enjoyed being active in the outdoors as much as possible this long holiday weekend, and I plan to continue to be as long as I can through the upcoming weeks.

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It never ceases to amaze me how being outdoors can change one’s mental and physical outlook. I can feel the tension and other stress fall from my shoulders when I step into the woods or pedal on my bike. I soak in the breeze on my skin and listen to the voices of nature. For example, I felt a bit sluggish yesterday when my alarm sounded and I considered enjoying another hour of sleep. But that would mean skipping a hike with a new group of friends. So I kicked the covers off and headed to the trail. And I felt a sudden burst of energy and positive attitude as I stood ready at the trailhead. I was so happy to be outdoors.

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I found all of this fun at local parks and trails. We’re so fortunate to have some great locations throughout metro Detroit. I thought I’d share these recent spots in case you’re looking for a push to get outdoors too.

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Macomb Orchard Trail, Shelby Township: This is one of my favorite biking trails. The 24-mile paved trail has less intersections to stop your pace or distract you with vehicles. It is popular for biking, walking, running and even rollerblading so I like to be on the trail early. I usually pick up the trail at 24 Mile/Dequindre (park at the ice arena), then head east. I love that the further you ride, the more countryside you ride through with trees, orchards, dairy farms and crop fields.

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Maybury State Park, Northville: This almost 1,000-acre state park has some great wooded and gently rolling hiking trails. Some of the bike and horse trails intersect with the hiking trails so do pay attention to trail signs. There also is a paved bike path, fishing pond, and horse stable (you can rent trail horses). Be thoughtful if you encounter horses – no yelling or fast movements to spook these awesome animals. You do need a recreation passport or to purchase a day pass.

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Stage Nature Center, Troy: This 100-acre park is located close to my home so these trails have become my go-to whenever I need a quick ‘nature pick me up’ (read my previous blog post about this location). The trails are relatively short so I usually loop several times to hit any significant distance. But I like this location as it’s rarely busy when I’m there, I often encounter deer and other wildlife, and I feel comfortable hiking alone.

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In my encounters with other people this past weekend, I learned of some new outdoor spots for me to check out so stay tuned! Did you get outdoors this holiday weekend? If so, where did you go?

 

10 fun facts about Mackinac Island, Michigan July 26, 2016

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Approaching Mackinac Island from the ferry.

During my family’s recent getaway to Mackinaw City, we took a day trip to Mackinac Island. The island is located in Lake Huron between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. This is one of my favorite spots to visit in my home state.

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The 3.8-square mile island once served as home to a Native American tribe, a center for fur trading, then a military post when the British built Fort Mackinac (still available to tour on the island). It became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th century. The primary way to get to the island is via boat so there are several ferry companies that depart from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. In the winter when the lake freezes, some residents will drive snowmobiles across the ice. There is a small airport that private planes use.

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I love visiting Mackinac Island. It’s relaxing, even during the busy summer season, and beautiful. I love the uniqueness of horses, bikes and walking as the only modes of transportation. I love that it’s like a secluded getaway in the midst of busy civilization.

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Here are 10 things I find fun and interesting about Mackinac Island:

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1. No vehicles: Motor vehicles were banned from the island at the end of the 19th century and the restriction continues today (except for emergency and some construction vehicles). M-185, the country’s only state highway without motored vehicles, goes around the 8-mile circumference. The only modes of transportation are horses, bikes and your own feet. I love this about Mackinac Island. It makes the island unique, and also provides a sense of peace and break from our crazy, honking society.

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2. Mackinac Island State Park: Mackinac Island was the second national park, then the land was given to Michigan in 1895 and became our first state park. The state park comprises 82 percent of the island. There are more than 70 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. I’ve hiked the majority of these trails and there is always something interesting and informational to see and learn.

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3. Family time: I love any place that enables my family to relax and spend time together. Mackinac Island is the perfect place to do just that. From the ferry ride over to the horse-drawn wagon tour to fudge sampling to simply wandering the streets of the island, we felt worlds away from ‘regular life.’ We even all agreed to suspend technology use (except for pictures) while on the island (so awesome to me!). It was so fun being on the island with my family, especially for the first time with the younger nieces and nephew. We discussed quite a bit of history, horses and nature.

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Horses are everywhere!

4. Horses: I love visiting Mackinac Island where my favorite animal is pretty much everywhere I look. More than 500 horses are brought to the island every spring, and taken off the island for the winter. Many of the horses are used to pull wagons for guest taxis, maintenance supplies, island tours and business needs. You can also rent saddle horses for tours around the island. I unfortunately never got to ride a horse on the island before my cancer surgery so I’m disappointed that I can’t experience this. However, I was happy that my two older nieces and my niece’s husband took advantage of this fun outing.

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5. Grand Hotel: This 390 room hotel opened in 1887 to summer tourists. It has the world’s largest porch (660 feet) overlooking Lake Huron and the hotel’s beautiful gardens. No two guest rooms are the same, which makes me want to walk through every room to see the decor! There is an evening dress code and non-guests are charged $10 to visit the porch. It’s definitely a pricey hotel, but a pretty one.

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6. Biking: Riding bikes is one of the most popular ways to get around on the island. You can bring your own across the lake on the ferry or rent one of the more the 14,000 available from vendors on the island.

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Beautiful lake waters below Arch Rock

7. Arch Rock: This is one of my favorite spots on the island. The natural limestone rock is 146 feet above sea level. It’s unique in the size and shape. Many legends surround the arch. It’s predicted that it will erode completely in the next few decades so check it out.

 

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8. Population: Approximately 7,000 people live on the island during the summer months as tourist season brings many temporary workers to help at the restaurants, shops, hotels, bed and breakfast inns and elsewhere. During the winter, only 400-500 islanders remain.

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9. Education: I find it fascinating that there is a K-12 school on the island. Of course, the year-round island youth need to be educated but I guess the island size and sort of remote location made me think there wouldn’t be a school. The largest graduating class in recent years had eight students. The 2016 class graduated five students.

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10. Fudge: There are 14 fudge shops on the island! So much fudge is made that more than 10 tons of butter is brought to the island every year. I’m not a huge fudge fan but I admit to some sampling when on the island.

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There is so much more I could share about the island! It truly is a fun, unique, relaxing experience. Have you been to Mackinac Island? If so, what was your favorite experience?

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I love this phone booth next to the Grand Hotel! Phone doesn’t work but I still think you can call a superhero if needed.

 

10 tips to enjoy hiking on the trails June 4, 2016

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Beautiful trail to enjoy!

Today is National Trails Day. This annual event started in the early ’90s by the American Hiking Society to celebrate our country’s amazing trail system and introduce citizens to the variety of trail activities available, including hiking, biking, geocaching, horseback riding, bird watching, paddling and more.

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There are more than 200,000 miles of trails in the United States! Many park staff and thousands of volunteers work hard every year to ensure these trails stay maintained and available for use by millions of visitors.

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Besides my love of the outdoors, I enjoy hiking because it’s usually free (some parks charge a minimal entrance fee) and almost everyone can go. Many parks are creating easily accessible trails to enable strollers and some wheelchairs. It probably won’t surprise you that I also enjoy that hiking is ‘easy’ exercise to me, in the sense that I’m enjoying myself so forget that I’m burning calories and toning my muscles (that’s the BEST kind of exercise!).

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One of my friends recently shared that she’s never been hiking on the trails in the woods, and she wouldn’t know where to start. It got me thinking that there only a few basic necessities if you’re going on a day hike. Here’s a short list of suggestions to get you started:

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Sturdy shoes. Make sure you have good treads on your shoes to provide solid footing on loose dirt, wood chips and other ground cover. No need to get fancy hiking shoes if you’re doing short day hikes without a backpack, but if you plan to do more strenuous and/or frequent hikes, you might want to consider a sturdy trail shoe or boot. I love my Merrell trail shoes (I’m on my third pair!).

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Dress comfortably. Wear layers as your body temp will most likely change as you start moving or the weather changes. Many people recommend polyester as it ‘wicks’ away moisture if you start to get hot (or it rains). I admittedly sometimes wear cotton if I’m on a day hike. I don’t recommend hiking in jeans as the denim tends to stay wet and dry slowly so if your pants get wet, it might get uncomfortable.

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I love the outdoors.

Sun protection. Slather up with sunscreen, even if you’re hiking in the woods. You’d be surprised how easily the sun’s rays can find you between the tree tops. Wear a hat if you’ll be hiking in the direct sun. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.

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Bring water. Staying hydrated is important no matter what you’re doing. You may think you won’t get thirsty if you’re taking a short hike but you’d be surprised. I carry a water bottle or use a water hydration pack for easy drinking while hiking.

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Keep the bugs away. You’re in the woods so bugs are around. I’m not a fan of bug spray but I’m even less a fan of bug bites. I try to wear long sleeves/pants when hiking but sometimes in the summer weather, I need to wear less clothes. I carry a small bottle of my essential oil bug spray to keep mosquitoes and other pests away.

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Food. Even if you ate right before heading to the trails, it’s good to carry a granola bar, protein bar, trail mix or some snack. You’re burning calories on the trail, plus you never know if something may delay you from getting back to the car later than you planned. You don’t want to get light-headed from lack of nutrition or turn into a diva because you’re hungry. I always pack a variety of snacks when hiking with my nieces and nephew (yep, that day pack gets a tad heavy when out with them!)…..one of our favorite parts of a hike is stopping to enjoy water, snacks and fun conversation (and it’s good bribery, er, motivation to keep them moving!).

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First aid supplies. You never know a branch might scratch you or your niece will run her finger along a fence and get a splinter. For day hikes, I carry a small first aid kit (that I actually keep in my car on a daily basis) that includes band-aids, tweezers, alcohol wipes and Benadryl.

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The kids are prepared!

Know where you’re going. You can usually get a map of the trail system online or at the park’s entrance. Check it out before you leave the trailhead and pay attention to markers on the trail. It might seem hard to get lost in a small park/local trails but you should be prepared. You might carry your cellphone (on silent/vibrate please) but service isn’t always available in the woods.

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Check out a local park’s trails. You don’t need to hike a mountain to enjoy the trails (although depending where you live, your local park may be in the mountains. In that case, I’m jealous!), or drive hours away from home. Odds are there is a park with trails somewhere near your home – you might not even know it! I recently mentioned the trails by my home to a local resident who had never visited it, but now plans to.

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Enjoy yourself! Unless you’re training for a trip, there’s no need to race through the trails. You’re in nature to enjoy it so look around at the beauty, listen to the animals and trees, and breathe in the fresh air!

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For more suggestions on what to carry on a hike, check out a “10 essentials” list as a starting point.

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Now I’m off to take my friend hiking. Get outside and enjoy the day. Happy hiking!

 

Adventure Saturday: Visiting Detroit’s Belle Isle park January 25, 2016

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Awesome buildings in the sun.

It was a sunny, brisk day when my sister and I decided to head to Detroit for lunch and to tour Belle Isle Park, a 987-acre island located between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. I visited Belle Isle on school field trips and family outings when I was a child but I couldn’t remember the last time I visited as an adult. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a while so I thought it would be a nice outing for Adventure Saturday!

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My sister and I decided to stop for lunch on the way so HopCat in Detroit was our decision. It was fairly busy but our wait was only about 15 minutes. I had yummy quesadillas and Kim had mac n’ cheese with bacon. HopCat has an extensive craft beer menu so we sampled some good beer too!

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Belle Isle has a rich history connected with the city of Detroit. It became a city park in the late 1800’s. Visitors first had to take a ferry to visit. The current 2,193-foot vehicle bridge was built in 1923 (after the original bridge burned in 1915) to connect the island to mainland Detroit. In 2013, Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd state park (Detroit still owns the property). Since the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took over the management of the island, many updates have occurred. The Belle Isle Conservancy also does a lot to raise funds and renovate many of the attractions, including the aquarium and conservatory.

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Lots of pretty plants!

Belle Isle has five miles of shoreline, offering a spectacular view of the skylines of Detroit and Windsor, the Ambassador bridge and freighter traffic along the Detroit River. There are so many attractions and beautiful structures on the island. We drove the entire island looking at various structures, including the police station and old horse stables.

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The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory’s 85-foot dome can be seen from a distance. The conservatory was designed by Albert Kahn and modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The temperature inside the conservatory was balmy in the low 80s. There are five areas to explore – the Palm House, the Fernery, Cactus House, Tropical House, and Showroom. I loved wandering through paths outlined by diverse plants. We chuckled at some of the names of the plants and marveled at the size and shapes of many others. It’s fascinating to see so many different plants that hail from all over the world.

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Big belly seahorse

The Belle Isle Aquarium is also an Albert Kahn-designed building. It opened in 1904 as the third largest aquarium in the world and operated until 2005. The Belle Isle Conservancy re-opened the aquarium in 2012 and has been doing renovations. The tanks inside contain fresh and saltwater fish – some really large and exotic! Most eye-catching is the arched ceiling with gorgeous green tiles. A lot of work has been occurring to repair and replace broken tiles damaged from water and time passing.

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The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, a driving range, Nature Zoo (formerly the nature center), and much more is on the island. I was impressed with the numerous updates and work done on the island over the past few years. I can’t wait to return to Belle Isle in the warmer spring to walk the island and explore more of the attractions. My sister and I decided Belle Isle would be a fun location for one of our weekly Sunday family dinners (there are so many great picnic spots!).

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A Michigan Recreation Pass is required for vehicle entry onto the island (pedestrians and bikers can access the island for free). There is no charge to visit the aquarium, zoo and conservancy. Check hours for the attractions before going as they vary for each location.

 

5 reasons to enjoy camping August 28, 2015

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

 

Exploring central Maui’s state park (part 3) June 17, 2014

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 8:36 pm
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The Iao Needle behind us.

We woke one day during our Maui vacation with no set plans except to relax so after breakfast on our lanai overlooking the ocean, we decided to head to Iao Valley State Monument near Wailuku in central Maui. I had read about this park in some of the travel guides, learning you could easily explore in a few hours so we figured we’d get a hike in, then swim in the pool or ocean. Ah, island life.

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The drive on Iao Valley Road is pretty as you leave the city sights of Kahului to transition into a rain forest. Lush, green landscapes surround you. The 6-acre state park is in a beautiful canyon. The park is the site of the Kepaniwai battle where troops of Kamehameha I conquered the Maui army in 1790. The Iao Needle is a spire that climbs 2,250 feet above sea level (Iao means ‘cloud supreme’). Guards climbed the spire as a lookout to ensure enemies weren’t approaching. How anyone climbed (and stayed on) this tall piece of nature is unknown to me!

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Cooling off in the river!

Cooling off in the river!

There are two trails to explore. A short 0.6-mile trail takes visitors across a bridge and up to the viewing platform to see the spire and gorgeous views of the area below. A six-mile (mostly paved) loop lets visitors explore more of the park.

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You can walk through a botanical garden and see various housing structures from Hawaii’s heritage, including a Hawaiian hale, Chinese pagoda, and mission house. A koi pond and Portuguese garden also greets visitors. There are numerous exhibit signs to give visitors a background on the history of the location.

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The loop goes along a river, where several people (including Justin) waded in to cool off from the humid heat. Ferns, banana trees and many other exotic plants line the area. Maui certainly has some beautiful plants and flowers on the island. So many vibrant colors and amazing scents.

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I noticed the gorgeous plant before this guy!

I noticed the gorgeous plant before this guy!

We really enjoyed our visit to the Iao Valley State Monument. It wasn’t on our original ‘list of things to do’ so I’m happy that we discovered it. I love that our adventures often take us on unexpected journeys!

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The park is open daily from 7am-7pm; admission is free. As a bonus, there’s nearby fun for geocaching enthusiasts!

 

 
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