Shawangunk Mountains, New York – Rock Climbing

Last week Chris and I drove ten hours to climb at one of my favorite areas in the eastern US – the Shawangunk Mountains, a.k.a the Gunks.  The Gunks are located 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of New York City, in the Hudson River Valley.  The Gunks aren’t so much mountains as they are an escarpment 19 kilometres (12 miles) long and 90 metres (300 feet) high.

People have been rock climbing in the Gunks since the 1930s and today there are more than 1,000 established climbing routes, most of them accessed by a carriage road running along the base of the cliff.

We arrived Tuesday afternoon after spending a few  rainy days in Massachusetts. The weather forecast was still iffy, but we decided to give it a chance. I’m glad we did – we managed to climb for five days straight with only a few rain sprinkles here and there.

We spent most of our time climbing in the Trapps area.  We both managed to lead some new climbs and get on some old favorites.

Climbing in the Gunks can be pretty intimidating.  Large roofs and overhangs – even on easy climbs – , very exposed walls, and PG-rated climbs make for some adventurous climbing.

On this trip, Chris managed to get a clean lead of Retribution – a hard 5.10b climb that had eluded him last time.

One of Chris’s favorite climbs of the trip was Modern Times – a 5.8+ with a series of overhangs at the crux.  To climb through the crux, he had to cut loose from the wall and campus a few moves (climb using only his arms, legs dangling in the air).  When I got to that part of the climb, I didn’t have the upper-body strength to do the moves and ended up having to aid through the crux – a time-consuming process, but better than Chris having to come down and rescue me.  Extra slings for aiding are a must for me in the Gunks!

Saturday was our last day of climbing and we decided to go to the Near Trapps area which is less busy as the approach is along the cliff instead of on a carriage road. Our last climb of the day was Birdland, a beautiful two-pitch climb. The first pitch is a tricky face climb while the second pitch goes through a series of roofs.  I was happy to be able to climb through the roofs on this climb.  A great way to end another fun climbing road trip.


Acadia National Park – Biking and Hiking

This past weekend we made the 3 /12 hour trip down to Acadia National Park/Bar Harbour in Maine.  I first visited Acadia five years ago and it quickly became one of my favorite local vacation spots.

Friday, Chris and our friend Jon C. went to the Precipice area to rock climb. As I had a minor shoulder injury I decided to take a day off from climbing and go biking and hiking.

Acadia National Park has a wonderful system of park roads that wind their way around the coastline and then inland between the mountains. The park road are closed in the winter and re-open April 15th each year.  The closed park roads were perfect for biking.  Kilometres and kilometres of smooth road and no cars to worry about.  It was my first time out biking this year and my legs were feeling it – there are a lot of hills in the park! I ended up biking 21.6 km (13.4 miles) – not bad for my first ride of the year.

Biking is one of my favorite ways to discover an area.  I can cover so much more ground than I can hiking, and it gives me the time to look around and see a lot more than I do while driving.

On this biking trip I came across a family of deer eating on the side of the road.  They were not spooked by my presence at all.  I stood twenty feet from them and took pictures for about fifteen minutes.  They just kept eating and looked at me once in a while as if to say: “Are you done yet?”

After a relaxing visit to the only sandy beach in the park, aptly named Sand Beach, I decided to drive out to the western side of the island to a hiking trail that I’d been wanting to check out for a few years.  Beech Cliff trail is located by Echo Lake (another popular swimming area in the summer) and is 1.2 kilometres return (0.8 mile). It’s a short hike, but one that switchbacks up the mountain side and ends with four iron ladders to the top. Not a trail for those scared of heights, but I’d recommend it to those looking for a shorter moderate hike in the park.

After my hike I picked up the guys, happy with their successful climbing day, and we headed out to our accommodations at Acadia Suites. This is a great spot to stay in Bar Harbour – off-season rates of $75 per night for a one-bedroom (queen size bed plus single-bed), large kitchen and living room with pull-out sofa.

We recaped our adventures from the day and talked about what rock climbs we’d attempt the next day…

Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my first garden was grown during my time at the Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme on Cortes Island in British Columbia.

In 2001 I was working at the Falls Brook Centre in New Brunswick and getting interesting in gardening and organic farming.  I decided that I wanted to go out and get some more hands-on experience with farming.

Unlike the day-to-day parts of my life where I plan and plan, I tend to make big life decisions on a whim.  I looked around a bit on the internet for a gardening program, came across the Linnaea program, and applied the next day – all without doing any research on the program.  It wasn’t a few days before I was to leave on a cross-country train trip for B.C. that I actually looked up where Cortes Island was located.  To my surprise it wasn’t directly across from Vancouver as I had thought, but further up Vancouver Island, nearer to Campbell River.

Thankfully I didn’t end up on a crazy farm, but had a wonderful 8-month (February to October) experience on Cortes Island.

The Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme has been running since 1987 and offers a full-season hands-on course on organic agriculture, small-scale farming, and permaculture.  The farm runs a market garden and CSA program and also has 30 acres of pasture and hay fields, cows, sheep, and chickens. Each year ten or twelve students students are in the programme.

My time at the farm consisted of work in the market garden, work in my own vegetable plot, an applied permaculture design course, classroom sessions on various agriculture topics, and various hands-on short courses such as herbology, blacksmithing, woodworking,  and food preservation.

I loved all parts of the programme, but my favorites parts were working in my own garden plot and my special project on natural dye-plants; our class project for our permaculture design course where we designed a full-property plan for a local small-scale farming property; the blacksmithing course; and the times we helped out on the larger farm with haying, cattle rotation grazing, and lambing.  One night I spent a two-hour shift looking over Della the sheep who had a prolapsed uterus, in case something happened and the vet needed to be called.

Cortes Island itself was amazing.  It’s a small island of just over 1,000 permanent residents.  The closest community to the farm has a school, restaurant, small grocery store, and a community building which houses the library, doctor’s office, post office, second-hand store, kindergarten, cafe, and the weekly farmers’/craft market.  Mail only came in three times a week, so mail-day was always a good time to run into most of the community members and catch up on news.  The island has beaches, lakes and hiking trails and I spent many days traipsing around the woods (thankfully never encountering one of the island’s cougars), canoeing, kayaking, and swimming.

When I was there, the instructors for the programme were all residents of Linnaea Farm and they would teach part-time and do farm activities the rest of the time.  Most of the students lived in a large house on the lake.

There is a cost to the programme.  When I went it was less than $2000 for tuition. I checked the website and it is now around $3500.  I still think this is a great price for an eight-month course considering a two-week permaculture course usually costs around $1500.

As has been pointed out to me many times over the years, I could have saved my money and time and learnt all of these skills by myself, by reading books, and talking to other gardeners as I went. That’s true, but I don’t regret my decision to take a year off work in 2002 and go live and learn on a small island in BC. It was awesome.

Over time I’ve realized that full-time farming is not the occupation for me, but I’m still grateful for the time I spent at Linnaea and continue to use many of the skills I learnt there in our home garden.

Frugal Road Tripping – Meal Planning

As I write on my ‘about me’ blurb I’m a planner.  A planner by profession, but also a planner in my every day life. I love write to-do lists and check them off.  I also love planning our weekly meals.   I grew up seeing my parents make weekly meal plans and have been doing the same since I moved into my first apartment.

For our road trip I decided to go all out and plan our meals for every day that we’d be together (Chris had special food for his big wall adventure and I was on my own for that week).   Breakfasts and lunches were easy as we both don’t mind having the same thing every day for those meals. Breakfast was muesli or granola with soy milk or water and lunches were bagels with nutella and almond butter. We also made sure that we had lots of granola bars, trail mix, and fruit for snacks.

Since we’d be pressed for space and time I looked at backcountry camping websites for inspiration for dinners. I found most of my ideas on the Trail Cooking website. I assigned a recipe to each night and printed out a menu for the trip (all in binder in above picture).

I then made out a list of the ingredients that we would need and noted whether they could be bought beforehand or would have to be bought in the US (either because they were fruits or vegetables that could not be brought across the border or because they were perishables).

To make cooking easier and faster after a long day of climbing when our brains are mush, I measured out the pasta and rice is meal-sized servings and put these in plastic bags. With everything bought beforehand or during one of our four grocery runs, and within easy reach, meal preparation usually only took 20 minutes or less each night.

When he was creating our sleeping set-up for the car, Chris designed it so that the plywood pieces could also be used as a table.  You’ll notice in the picture above the long plywood pieces are the table (attached to cords tied inside the car) and the small plywood piece is the leg of the table (leaning on a few large screws for balance).

Some of the meals we liked best were One Pot Chickpea Pasta ; Spicy Tuna Pasta (our favorite) ; Harvest Pasta ; Herbed Pasta de Provence ; and Thai Style Chicken Curry.  In the end we did not follow the meal plan to a “T”.  We did not like a few of the recipes the first time we made them so we did not re-make them when their second time came around on the menu.  We ended up making spicy tuna pasta those times because it was so good and we had the extra ingredients needed.  A few times we’d pull into our location for the night and wouldn’t feel like cooking so we would eat out, or we’d have cereal for dinner (our normal go-to dinner at home when we’re too tired).

All in all, I think menu planning for our road trip saved us a lot of money and time. We weren’t eating gourmet meals, but they were tasty and filling.   I’d recommend it to anyone going on a road trip.

What are your favorite road trip meals?

Frugal Road Tripping – Car Sleeping

This past fall Chris and I took a month off work and drove to California. The main objective of the trip was for Chris to go to Yosemite to climb El Cap, but it had been a long-time dream of mine to drive across the US so we decided to add that to the trip, along with a few stops at climbing areas in Arizona and Utah.

Being frugal by nature, and recognizing how much a month-long trip could cost us if we stayed in hotels every night, we decided to sleep in the car as much as we could.

Our car is a four-door Honda Fit hatchback.  It’s a small car, but you can fit an amazing amount of stuff in it. For sleeping, Chris devised a great simple system for us.  He rigged up cords that would hold together three pieces of plywood for us to sleep on (A,B, and C). The cords would also be clipped to the hand rails on the front doors and by the back windows.

The three plywood pieces rested on two large plastic tote boxes (the back seats fold down flat so we get a large flat area behind the front seats).  In sleep-mode, the front seats would be pushed all the way forward.  In drive-mode the front seats would be in their normal positions and the three pieces of plywood would be stacked on top of each other.

Once we pulled into our night’s destination, it would only take us 15 minutes to set up the car for sleeping. We slept amazingly well – even Chris at 6 feet could stretch out! For air circulation, we would close the trunk, but leave the front windows cracked open a little.  We had bug netting that we could put over the windows (attached with magnets) if we were in a buggy area.

In total we spent 15 nights sleeping in the car.  Eight of those were at commercial campgrounds (St. Louis, MO; Yosemite, CA; Davenport, IA; Seneca Falls, NY); four were in Wal-Mart parking lots (Winslow, AZ; Flagstaff, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; Sterling, CO), and three nights were in a National Forest (near Winslow, AZ and Moab, UT).

We could have slept in a tent when we were in commercial campgrounds, but as we were often getting there late at night and leaving early in the morning, it made more sense to us to do the quick car conversion.

We did spent five nights tent camping at the Indian Creek climbing area in Utah (near Moab).  We had the use of our friend’s tent for those five nights, but both agreed that the car was a far more comfortable and warm place to sleep.

The rest of the trip I spent in hostels along the California coast while Chris climbed in Yosemite. We also treated ourselves to a nice hotel in Albuquerque, NM for our anniversary and we had an unexpected hotel stay in Sacramento, CA because of a major snow storm (in October!).

I realize that car camping is not for everyone, and that not all cars can be converted as easily as the Honda Fit, but I loved it, and would do it again for another road trip.  Now we just have to figure out where the (hoped-for) baby will fit!

Next post I’ll write about frugal eating on a road trip.

Have you used your car for camping?