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Friday, December 30, 2016

A year in review: 2016

I say this every year but this is always my favorite post to write.  A chance to stop and look back at the year and all the things iv'e done.  When I start to feel stagnant, reading these post are reminders of all the amazing things I have done.  Looking back, 2016 was crazy mix of mountains and oceans.  I spent about half the year in the west, and the other half in the east.  Some months I climbed peaks and others I went scuba diving.  This post, above all, was a reminder that 2016 was pretty good to me.  If you love these reviews as much as I do, you can check out A Year In Review 2015 and 2014.  In the meantime, lets take one more look at 2016 before ringing in the new year.  Or in other words, see some pictures of Katie in awkward poses around the globe. 

This year started out with a BANG!  Right after the holidays I took off for a week to the beautiful Madeira Island with my parents and 6 other aunts and uncles.  I did some scuba diving, saw some mountain peaks, visited a trout farm, saw the botanical gardens, sled down the streets in a toboggan, toured some lava tubes, and saw the natural pools.  I took a trip to NYC and ate some delicious Brooklyn Pizza.  Towards the end of the year friends were in town and we got in some skiing at Brighton, Snowbasin and Snowbird.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Elms - Newport Mansion

When the weather gets cold and the hiking is a little less inviting, I hit the map to see what kind of "alternative" adventures I can find on a chilly December day.  I woke up with the intention of going hiking, but when the temperatures hovered in the low 20's, I decided to get creative and find something else to do on a chilly but sunny Sunday.

After spending some time on google maps, I decided a day trip to Newport was just the ticket to a well spent weekend.  I have been to Newport many times but this trip was to see some of the Mansions decked for the Holidays.  That many Christmas trees brought on the holiday spirit and a tour of two mansions I had not been in before, The Elms and The Marble House.  With so many mansions decorating Bellevue Avenue, it takes several trips to Newport to see them all.  My first stop on the Mansion tour was to The Elms, one of the first mansions on your tour towards the water down Bellevue Avenue.  

This was a tour of a beautiful mansion and one that actually felt "lived in".  Great audio tour throughout the mansion.  Parking is on-site which made it easier for us, especially because we had our dog in the car.  The grounds were beautiful with a stable, expansive lawns and gardens and amazing crazy sculptures.  We did not do this but you can go on the Servant Life tour to see how the servants lived and access the mansion (advanced reservations required).  In the summer, you can have lunch at the cafe at the rear of the property at the Carriage House Cafe.  This mansion did not abut the water and did not have the amazing ocean views that some of the mansions have. The back lawn is still one of the best things about the property (you have to see the crazy sculptures for yourself.  Or scroll to the bottom of this post).  Every time I walk into one of these mansions, I am so thankful for conservation and preservation societies that keep these pieces of American history alive, so we can all daydream about the Gatsby era. See aerial footage of the mansion here. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Must Reads for Hikers

I have to admit, December is starting to get me down.  Temperatures will be 50 for a day or two before plummeting to the 20s and single digits at night (and that's without a wind chill).  yes yes, it is New England and winter happens this time every year.  But you start to feel like a caged animal when it gets dark at 4:30, the ground is frozen and the weather is just bitterly cold.   So, what do you do when you can't go hiking?  You read about it of course.   I have been reading a ton of books lately, especially audiobooks on my commutes to work and I have been on an outdoorsy adventure biography book kick lately, reading about other people's outdoor adventures.  One of the best ways I get inspired is a good blog, an excellent movie or my very favorite,  a good book.  These are some of the books I highly recommend and the books I want to read.  Make sure you tell me your favorites (or what you thought of these) in the comments.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Newport Storm Brewery - Rhode Island

The new theme of the weekends for me has become "An adventure and a brewery".  If I leave the borough to explore a new town or hike a new trail, I try to find a new brewery on the way or nearby to try.  After spending the day visiting the Newport Mansions decked out for the holidays, we decided to stop at Newport Storm Brewery in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Newport Storm is Rhode Island's most popular microbrewery.  Located in a commercial area outside of historic downtown Newport, you can get away from the crowds and sample some Rhode Island beer.  If rum is more your style, you can also check out Thomas Tew Rum by Newport Distilling Co., (both the brewery and distillery run by the same company) operation that started in 2006.  I had to drive so the rum tasting would have to be on another day with a different driver.  

Newport Storm has the beginning of most of your New England breweries. They all sort of go a bit like this: some guy working in corporate America questioning his life and worth in his field decides to take a leap of faith, open a brewery and after a lot of ups and downs, hard work and a vision, a brewery is born. Newport Storm has a similar story, their story goes like this: "4 guys from college came up with an idea to start a brewery. Coastal Extreme Brewing (or The Newport Storm Brewery as we are known by many) was the dream of Brent, Derek, Mark, and Will. These four spent their years at Colby studying the science that would help them understand how to make beer while also doing the “sampling” that would make them love beer. In 1997, staring at graduation and a life just working in “a job”, the idea was hatched to start a brewery". 

Monday, December 12, 2016

The most comfortable hiking boot: Pacific Mountain Ascend Mid Review

For a long time, I stuck to my trail running shoes as my main form of hiking shoe.  I laced up my Salomon trail running shoes instead of a typical hiking boot because I wanted something versatile, comfortable and light.  When I was first on the hunt for a hiking shoe, I wanted something I could use for trail running but still wear for longer hikes.  I would glance at your traditional hiking boot but I always ended up buying more of a sneaker type shoe.   All I could picture was the scene in Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" where the Timberland looking clunky heavy hiking boot leaves her feet blistered and raw (before throwing one off a cliff).   I was turned off by their steep prices, clunky shape and heavy weight.   I would look at a pair of hiking boots and immediately state "that cannot be comfortable..." and generally, they weren't.  

My use of trail running shoes on the trails worked for a while, especially on the drier climate of Utah's trails (packed dirt, not too much rock unless you are unlucky enough to spend hikes scrambling over boulders).  However, after moving back East, my routine switched.  Hikes through New England's much rockier and root filled glacial terrain proved that I needed a real hiking boot with ankle support and a sturdier sole.  This really came to light after hiking Mount Washington in my Salomon trail runners instead of a REAL hiking shoe because I did not want to haul a pair of clunkers up 4,000'.   Note:  This hike is a strenuous one and Mt Washington is known as the world's most dangerous small mountain (read boots are important).  My feet were swollen and in pain from crossing over sharp edges of rocks along Tuckerman Ravine's unforgiving trail, scrambling across sharp rock edges and the climbs and drops of the hike in a flexible running shoe.  I decided enough was enough and it was time to convert.  

Turns out, hiking boots have come a long way from those traditional leather high tops.  After researching, I learned I really needed a shoe with a steel shank to protect my feet when crossing over the sharp edges of rocks. I didn't know much about shoe shanks until I read about them from Pacific Mountain.  "The steel shank is a supportive part of the shoe that is made of a flat piece of metal located above the outer sole located between the heel and ball area of the foot just below the arch. Shank protection is crucial to the functionality of hiking and backpacking boots as they diminish the load incurred by the person's feet and calves over the course of their journey. Along with protection from rock bruising, and any potential bottom punctures".

I also needed a higher shoe with ankle protection, a toe cap for when you accidentally kick a rock as I do often, waterproofing for wet conditions, something not too heavy and clunky, and preferably one that had a feminine, not so militarized touch to it, more hiking shoe, less work boot.  And of course, I wanted a company with great customer service and a boot that wouldn't break the bank.  After doing my research I found what I was looking for in Pacific Mountain.

Pacific Mountain's awesome website, detailed product information and customer service attracted me to their company and hiking boots.  With free shipping and returns, a 100 % satisfaction guarantee and 1 year warranty, I knew this was a company who stood behind their product and cared about their customers. Before I reached out to Pacific Mountain, I wanted to know a little bit about the company.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas at the Newport Mansions

The Newport Mansions are a history lesson and a reminder of another era.  It is here in Newport, Rhode Island where the wealthiest spent their summers.  While that time in American History is exactly that, history, the mansions remain thanks to the Preservation Society of Newport.   These mansions are now open to the public year-round to transport you to a time when swans filled the fountains, Gatsbys danced in the ballrooms and gold covered the walls.

Summer is a great time to visit the mansions.  Walking the expansive lawns at the edge of the water you can really "time travel" to the gilded age when these mansions were used as summer cottages.  The warm New England breeze coming off the Atlantic is the perfect occasion to pop in and out of mansions, with a few stops at the raw bar and various Newport restaurants in between. 

Gates to The Breakers
However, Christmas is what I consider to be the perfect time to visit these mansions.  December means less tourists (less crowds, more parking) cheaper ticket prices and most important, the mansions are decorated for the holidays.  And not just a wreath or two, I mean exquisitely decorated Christmas trees, a ton of ornaments, poinsettias, elaborate mantles, beautiful candles, and festive wreaths decorate the mansions inside and out. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gift Guide for Travelers

It is that time of year folks.  The time of year when all your favorite blogs feature gift guides.  I have always find them slightly annoying yet really awesome.  Annoyed that beautiful pictures of hikes and travels are filled with products for sale and affiliate links, but also grateful for the gift ideas in the holiday season.  So if you are slightly annoyed and excited about this gift guide, I am sorry and you are welcome.  

This years guide is a little heavy on organization.  Why? Because this tends to be the biggest struggle I have when planning for a trip (how to pack everything I need as compact and organized as possible).  I also put in a few awesome electronics, a menu aid, a fun wallet, a genius idea for a water bottle, and a way to wash your clothes without a washing machine.  Without further adieu, lets talk about awesome gift for the traveler on your shopping list. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hiking Etiquette - Tips on the Trails

There have been countless incidents on the trails where I wish we had hiking etiquette signs posted at some of the popular trailheads.  Some people just don't know the informal rules of the trail and some people, well, need to be reminded every once in a while.  I will never forget the groups hiking through Bryce Canyon National Park who would stop in the middle of the trail to take endless selfies, or have a friend take pictures of something for a solid ten minutes.  Or you have the hikers who let their dogs go to the bathroom in the middle of the trail (dog hiking etiquette deserves and will get its own post).

So many times I told myself "You need to write a post about trail etiquette" because education is the first step to awareness. And as I mentioned, some of us need a quick lesson while others just need a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder.  Nothing too complicated, just the standard "who has the right of way" and how to be a better human on the trails so we can all enjoy the hike.

This can be a tricky thing to analyze on the trail.  Generally speaking, the uphill hiker gets the right of way.  However, they will often take the opportunity for a short break and let you pass.  The rule is that the uphill hikers gets to make the call!  All situations are different so use your best judgment while remembering that the uphill hiker gets the right of way.