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2/19 Traveling from Argentina to Chile

It was a long travel day from El Calafate, Argentina back to Punta Arenas, Chile (via Puerto Natales).  Not only was the bus ride long, but getting through the border wasn’t very efficient.  It was quite disorganized and confusing, and a group of us got the wrong date stamped on our passports on the Argentina side, which had to be fixed before we went to Chilean officials.  Once we made it to the Chilean side, they did a full inspection of all the luggage looking for any fruits/veggies/meats that could contaminate the Chilean agriculture. Luckily we expected the border hassles and had scheduled a long layover in Puerto Natales. Turns out we would have missed the earlier bus by about 20 minutes. By the time we made it to Punta Arenas we only had time to grab dinner.  We also found this odd street sign that still remains a mystery.

Snow-women are to the right??


2/10 Last Day in Patagonia

On our last day we took a boat to Isla Magdalena, which is a small island inhabited by the Magellanic Penguins.  These penguins are pretty small, only standing a couple feet tall, but full of personality!



The boat ride to and from the island is pretty long without much to see and no entertainment, so we should have brought something to read.  The ferry fit a surprising number of people, but seemed like it was really designed for non-human cargo, so it was often hard to find a seat.

Once we arrived, everyone flooded the island after getting strict instructions not to approach, chase or touch the penguins.  You also are required to stay within a roped walkway that follows the coast from the boat to the light house on a hill. This is to protect the penguins since they have nests all over the hillside.


Although the people can’t leave the walkway the penguins continually cross as they return from the ocean to their burrows or nests.


This can cause some humorous reactions and photos as people (like Katharine) are focused on the nests and don’t even realize a penguin is sauntering across the path.


Pretty much everyone decided to walk up to the lighthouse, but we chose to hang back and spend some time just watching a few different penguin families.  We saw them digging and cleaning their burrow as well as others defending their nest with vicious bitting and squawking.

We saw these two love birds taking a walk on the beach.

There were a variety of different ages, some were too young and didn’t have their stereotypical tuxedos.

The hillside was just covered in penguins, quite a sight.

As we were warned, it was very cold and windy on the island! (kind of a theme in Patagonia…)

This was a great way to end our trip laughing and enjoying ourselves watching the cute birds waddle around their island.

All in all it was an amazing trip with so many memories and photos.  With all the hectic traveling in Patagonia, it took a little while for the entire trip to really sink in.  Now we enjoy reminiscing about backpacking along the mountain and lakes in Torres del Paine, the relentless winds of Fitz Roy, giant ice walls calving into the lake, and last but not least, the awkward waddle of a Magellanic penguin!

2/18 Perito Moreno Glacier

On our return to Punta Arenas we spent a day in El Calafate and took a tour of the Perito Moreno Glacier.  We booked a Mini-Trekking tour that included plenty of time at the viewing decks and a guided hike on the glacier.  It’s about 30 minutes to the Los Glaciares National Park by bus and an additional 30 minutes to the Glacier viewing decks.  Our tour was scheduled so that we could eat lunch on the viewing decks and watch the glacier calve.

We were fortunate to see the 200+ foot tall glacier wall calve several times in the first 15 minutes.  You could hear the ice cracking, then massive portions of the wall would separate, appearing to fall in slow motion.  It’s hard to put into perspective how big the pieces of ice are that are falling.



It seemed like the lake water had a delayed reaction to the ice falling, waiting until the majority of the ice had been submerged before exploding with a spray of water.  The blast pushed any floating icebergs out into the open water leaving an eerie calm in the water.

The viewing deck is built so close to the ice wall that it is impossible to view the entire glacier at one time.  The glacier wall is 3 miles wide and extends about 240′ above the water, but over 300′ of ice lies beneath the water’s surface.

We watched a couple people jump the railing and try to get a closer look, but they were quickly chased by the park rangers.

After lunch we headed to a small boat that took us across the lake and to the edge of the glacier.  It gave us an interesting view point to see the glacier in profile from a lower view point.

The guides tied the rudimentary (but effective) crampons to our boots and then led us out onto the glacier in groups of 15. They gave us a few tips and little training, but overall the tour felt quite lax in terms of safety compared to what we’d expect in the US.

We made several stops looking down into the deep blue crevasses.  The hike climbed up and over small glacial ridges that had been exposed to the air and sun and had been melting for some time.  The melting had reduced its density causing the ice to lose its blue color and look and feel more like snow.

Guide Surveying the Crevasse

Katharine looking down a crevasse as the guide holds onto her backpack for ‘safety’


We spent a couple hours on the glacier traversing up and down small hills. It was amazing to see the bright blue revealed in the crevasses while the rest of it resembled whipped cream or meringues.

The hike ended at a small table in a valley where the guides scooped up glacial ice in tumblers and poured everyone a celebratory whiskey toast.

We’ve seen a number of glaciers in Alaska and Montana etc., but this was by far the most impressive and memorable.  The vast ice wall was stunning, and of course the hike was an unforgettable experience.




We had an incredible 2 week trip to Patagonia in mid-February.  It’s taken us the last month to get through the 2,241 photos! Here’s a look at the first part of our trip, backpacking in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

2/7-2/9 Arriving in Chile

We took 3 planes and about 24 hours to reach Punta Arenas, Chile near the southern tip of South America. The only Spanish we knew was what Nathan could remember from high school and what Katharine learned from an app in 2 weeks.  We then took a bus to a smaller city, Natales (Puerto Natales), which is the town closest to Torres del Paine.  It is common to see people walking the streets with their backpacking gear, and the restaurants are filled with young people trading stories about their latest adventures.

View of Natales from a Hilltop Near the Bus Station

We saw tons of guanaco in the pampas (plains), while riding on the buses throughout the trip.

Small Groups of Guanaco

We attended a free info seminar at the Erratic Rock hostel, which made us feel a lot more comfortable about what to expect on the backpack and provided a lot of good, detailed information (plus some that we found not so accurate) and it gave us a chance to ask some logistical questions which was a relief.  We spent the rest of the day buying dried fruit, nuts, and other backpacking food at the local markets and stores since Chile is really strict about bringing food into the country.

2/10 Refugio Paine Grande

We decided to do the W-Circuit from left to right, in 4 days and 3 nights.  First we took a bus from Natales to Torres del Paine, which takes about 4 hours. Then we took the ferry across Lago Pehoe to Refugio Paine Grande.  Normally this ferry only makes one trip across the lake, but the bus companies sold more tickets that people could fit on the one ferry.  We had to wait for the ferry to make a round trip and comeback and pick up about 50 more people.  This set us back a few hours.

This is all the backpacks piled up on the ferry.  Keep in mind this ferry was only half full and the pile is still 15 feet deep.

Torres del Paine has numerous refugios (transl: shelter or refuge) along the trail, which are essentially privately-run hotels/hostels in the wilderness.  They provide beds, showers, toilets, and a hot dinner, but reservations can be hard to come by in the high season.  We had decided not to stay in the Refugios and just camp, but we quickly realized backpacking in Torres del Paine does not really feel like the wilderness camping we are used to, more like pitching a tent on a hotel lawn.

Our first night was at Paine Grande, which was windy…really really windy, so everyone sets up their tents near the hillside and really close together.

Refugio Paine Grande

Once we finally got off the ferry, we quickly registered and set up our tent. We had been stuck on airplanes and buses for what seemed like forever and had no desire to hangout with the crowds of campers, so we quickly headed out on a day hike to Glacier Grey.  It is recommended to allow 7 hours round trip for this hike so we knew we wouldn’t be able to make it to the glacier with the ferry delay, but we thought we could get close enough to get a good view of it.  We quickly realized the “wind” symbol on the map is no joke.

Katharine Fighting the Wind

Despite the hundreds of people at the refugio, the trail was not crowded at all, so we finally felt like we were out in the wilderness and could enjoy the views. After an hour and a half we reached a great view point of Glacier Grey and Grey Lake.  We fought the incredible wind for a few minutes to take some photos, then realized a rainstorm was coming off the glacier and decided to head back.

Glacier Grey

During our hike we came across some brilliantly colored flowers in a glen.  The combination of the purple and white varieties was striking.

Foxglove, Digitalis Purpurea

As we headed back on the trail, a vibrant rainbow appeared in front of us, appearing to end right at our campsite!


Although we encountered some rain and extreme wind it was nice to be on the trail and away from all the crowds. We made it back to camp with plenty of daylight to cook dinner and relax a bit before bed, but the wind and rain kept us hiding in our tent for most of it.

2/11 Campamento Italiano

On our second day we planned to hike to Italiano, set-up camp, then day hike to Mirador Britanico (Viewpoint). We hiked 2 hours to Italiano mostly in the rain watching the wind whip up the water from the lake and pound the shore.

Map Displays Along the Trail (Not always to be trusted)


Italiano is just a campground and doesn’t have a refugio.  Luckily this campsite was amongst the trees, which helped shelter us from the wind and rain.  It was also really crowded (since it’s one of the few free campsites) so we quickly setup camp and left the crowds to hike to Mirador Britanico.

Sierra Finches

The trail wasn’t too muddy since it was mostly covered by short twisted forests that sheltered us from the rain and wind.


Some portions of the forest were wiped out by a rockslide creating a desolate scree wind tunnel.  You could watch other hikers make attempts to run across the rocks and become overcome by the wind and hide behind boulders.  When we sensed a lull in the gusts we made a run for it, passing the pinned down hikers, then diving into the trees as the roar of the next gust swept over the trees.  The trees were dense, so the scree gave us a first glimpse of the mountains that were surrounding us.


After 2.5 hours of hiking through rain, wind, and fog we reached the mirador.

Foggy Look Out


The mirador was exposed to hail and cold wind sweeping off the glaciers, so after 20 minutes waiting for the clouds to clear we decided to head back.


2/12 Campamento Chileno

The hike from Italiano to Chileno is about 14 miles and was the longest camp to camp stretch we had. Chileno has a restaurant, refugio, and offers mule rides from/to the Hosteria Las Torres (Hotel accessible via car/bus).  Campamento Torres is 3 miles beyond Chileno and provides a good base camp to then day hike to the Torres (Towers).

We finally got some good weather and we could see numerous mountain ranges towering over us and off in the distance.


 Cordillera del Paine

The first 10 miles of the day was relatively flat and took us along the Lago Nordenskjold.




One thing we really appreciated in Patagonia is that the water is safe to drink without filtering, which is pretty much no longer true anywhere in the US.  We quickly took to using the small waterfalls and streams as our new drinking fountains.


After a couple hours of hiking we stopped at Refugio y Campamento Los Cuernos and watched the condors circle the Cuerrno Este peak, which was about 6,000′ above us!  The Andean Condors can soar at altitudes of 18,000 feet!


Los Cuernos Restaurant

Los Cuernos Cabins

The southern tip of South America has a thinner ozone due to CFC usage.  Even though we were at the equivalent latitude as Calgary, Canada we could feel the intense sun during our hike around the lake that had little shade.

Nearing mid afternoon we made the turn towards Campamento Chileno, which climbs about 1,500 feet and then drops into the camp on the banks of the Rio Ascencio.

Nathan had injured his knee on the previous day hiking down from Britanico Mirador and it started to slow us down on the steep incline.  We opted to stay the night at Chileno instead of pushing on to Camp Torres.

2/13 Torres del Paine – The Torres Mirador

The hike to the famous view point (mirador) is about 2.5 hours along a river and then a steep climb up a rocky scree.  Many people recommend getting to the view point for sunrise, but since we opted to spend the night at Chileno instead of Camp Torres, we would have had to start hiking by 3:30 am, which felt too early. We still started hiking pretty early, doing the first mile by head lamp.  We made it to the top around 8:00 and the sun was high in the sky, but the sky was clear.  Even though we didn’t make it for sunrise, we considered ourselves lucky to have clear skies to see the Torres (towers).


The lake in front of the towers was like a mirror.  There wasn’t any wind or breeze, which felt very strange since we had been fighting it for the last 3 days.




After taking a ton of photos, we knew we had to leave and start the long hike down to catch the bus at the Hosteria Las Torres.  We hiked down the rocky mountain and back to Chileno Refugio and picked up our backpacks we had stashed under our tent platform.  We grabbed some water and started the 2 hour hike down to the hotel, which is completely exposed to the sun. Luckily we were hiking down hill – the day hikers coming up the valley from the hotel looked miserable in the hot sun.

We waited for the bus with the other 50+ backpackers that we had been hiking along side and camping with for the last 4 days.  Because almost everyone you see is hiking in the same direction and doing the same W-circuit, it often feels like you are hiking with a group of 50 backpackers from 10 different countries. We would even see some of the same people later on in our trip in Argentina hiking around Fitz Roy.

Waiting for the busses


Torres del Paine was a fun start to the trip, completing our first international backpacking trip!


Check out some of the other photos from our Torres del Paine adventure.

Our Thanksgiving tradition is to visit Nathan’s family in San Diego.  It’s only a 4-day weekend, but we always try to make the most of it.  San Diego is a great city to visit, packed with a variety of activities.

San Diego La Jolla Tour

Nathan’s dad is also a certified tour guide so we took a great informative tour of the La Jolla coastline learning about the history, geography and current events in San Diego.





Wild Animal Park

We’ve been to the famous San Diego Zoo many times, so we thought it would be interesting to see the Wild Animal Park this time.  The exhibits are more spread out, so it was pretty exhausting, but we saw more young animals since this is the zoo’s breeding facility. The new tiger exhibit was also pretty cool in that it really let you see the Tigers close up.




Lobster Fishing

A few years ago we went lobster fishing and were really successful, catching several lobsters per person.  Ever since then, we’ve been trying to beat that experience, or at least match it. Unfortunately this year it was unusually windy, which meant we had to stay closer to the shore, likely hurting our chances. We caught three legal sized lobsters, but had more fun playing cards in the cabin between pulling pots.




Horseback Riding on the Beach

As a special treat, Nathan’s dad arranged for us all to go horseback riding on the beach! There are only a few places that still allow you to ride horses on the beach in California, so we were glad to get the opportunity.  We took a 2 hour ride along the Mexico border and out on to the beach.  It was fun to see how the horses personalities played out during the ride, even following the same track they always take. Despite our inexperience and some conflicting horse-human personalities, we all managed to stay safe and enjoy the ride. But two hours was more than enough for our unconditioned butts… we couldn’t get out of the saddle fast enough!



It was another great trip to San Diego, we are already thinking of what to do this year… maybe a trip out to the desert in Anza Borrego Park.

As we drove through Loretto, KY after leaving Mammoth Caves, we knew when we were getting close to the distillery as we passed a dozen large black buildings with the Maker’s Mark Logo on the side.  These buildings house thousands of barrels of aging bourbon.  After a long and winding drive, we finally arrived at the small parking lot and signed up for the distillery tour.

The tour was very informative about how the Samuels family created what we know today as Maker’s Mark – from the flavor to the shape of the bottle and the famous red wax.


The tour itself wasn’t quite as entertaining as the one we did at Jack Daniel’s since our tour guide wasn’t as enthusiastic and they we’re currently making any bourbon during our visit. We did enjoy the aroma of standing in their warehouse surrounded by thousands of gallons of aging bourbon though.


We also go to see a portion of their bottling process which includes an automated system that rinses each bottle with Maker’s bourbon prior to being filled!  The bottles are then each hand dipped in wax giving each bottle a unique drip pattern, with a minimum number of drips to pass their quality test. They claim that each operator develops a certain style and can actually identify their own bottles if they see it in a store.


Of course one of the best parts of a distillery tour is the tasting!


We got to taste 4 types of bourbon of varying availability.  First was Maker’s White, which is the bourbon prior to aging in the barrels, also known as moonshine or white lightning.  It’s only available for purchase at the distillery and only recommended for cooking, not drinking. The taste is very harsh and burns your throat even though they dilute it for the tasting.

The next was Fully Matured, i.e. standard Maker’s Mark, which was very smooth and enjoyable after the moonshine.  The tour guide did a really nice job of describing how the flavors would interact with your taste buds, activating different parts of your tongue and making them tingle.


Next was Over-Matured, which tastes terrible, like extremely bitter charcoal and is basically provided just to prove the point that too much time in the barrel isn’t always good. If aged too long, the bourbon soaks beyond the burned layer of the barrel and into the raw wood, imparting the bitter flavor.

The last taste was Maker’s 46 which goes through an additional special aging process and is more mellow than normal Maker’s.  We both enjoyed this the most so we purchased a bottle in the gift shop.


Another perk to purchasing the bottle at the distillery is that they have dipping stations where you get to dip your own bottle! Katharine dipped our bottle and did an amazing job creating just enough drips to pass a normal production grade bottle!



On our way out we also enjoyed some well-placed glass art by Chihuly, which cast a colorful glow over the barrels.



So far we’ve really enjoyed factory tours of companies that take pride in their product.  Not only is it interesting and entertaining, but you get a sense of brand loyalty, which makes us wonder why more companies don’t create tours for their customers. (The other tours we’ve done which we highly recommend are Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee and Celestial Seasonings in Colorado.)


In June we took advantage of living on the east coast and took a bus to NYC for the weekend. We met up with our friends, Mike and Dar, who were completing their round-the-world trip!  The last time we had seen them was at their send off party in San Diego, which was coincidentally also the weekend we started our Epic Trip.

We spent the evening catching up with them on their travels and decided to meet the next morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum has some interesting exhibits beyond the traditional paintings and sculptures.

Mike got a couple chuckles from other onlookers


In addition to the weapons and armor exhibit we checked out the musical instruments. We wished there was an audio component to the exhibit though, it seemed such a shame to see so many beautiful and unique instruments but not get to hear what they sound like.

As we were walking out, the classic painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware caught our eye.  A fitting painting to end our visit.

We took a quick stroll through Central Park before parting ways.

And in the end, Nathan still hasn’t had a burger from Shake Shack… maybe next time? [a bit of an inside joke…]

After our visit to Nome we flew to Fairbanks for a few days to try out dog sledding and see the Northern Lights.  We tried out the Alaskan tradition of staying in a B&B at Dale & Jo View Suites just outside of Fairbanks.  We enjoyed the hospitality and breakfast in the morning.  We tried to stay up and look for the Aurora, but fighting the time change and our busy days, it was hard to stay up past midnight.  In any case, the first two nights were cloudy, and talking to other guests in the morning confirmed that we didn’t miss much.

While in Fairbanks we tried dog sledding since there was more snow on the ground than in Nome.  We went to Just Short of Magic for our incredible mushing experience.


Katharine with Our Lead Dog, Patch

We decided to take the “mushing school”, which means they teach you about dog sledding and then you get a chance to stand behind the sled and drive the dogs.

Eleanor Wirts, owner and expert mushing guide, taught us all about the different types of sled dogs and equipment.  We learned how to harness and hookup the line of dogs.  We had 9 dogs in our team and we were surprised how friendly they were.  They were anxious to get on the trail, but they knew to stand still when you were putting the harness on, but once it was on, you better hold on tight or it would be off and running without you!  We were also taught about the different positions in the line. We had 1 lead dog, 2 swing dogs, 4 team dogs, and 2 wheel dogs to pull the sled, Eleanor, and both of us.

Hooking Up Starbuck, one of the Swing Dogs (2nd in line behind the Lead)

At first we both sat in the sled as the she told us about the commands (Gee- Right, Haw- Left, and Whoa- Stop!).  Little known fact, the dogs learn to poop on the run.  Not thrilling at eye level with 9 butts running 15 mph!

Sledding on the famous Yukon Quest Trail

After 10 minutes we stopped and Katharine jumped on the runners with Eleanor to get some hands on experience.  After a couple turns we stopped and Eleanor got in the sled and Katharine got to drive the dogs solo!

After another 10 minutes Nathan also got his instruction and solo turn on the runners.  It was a thrilling experience to have 9 dogs pull you over miles of snow with what seemed like little effort.  You could tell the dogs were enjoying themselves and could go for miles.

It was about 30 degrees which is pretty warm for the dogs so every time we stopped, they never missed the chance to jump in the snow drifts and burrow to cool off.  Before we knew it we were pulling up to the kennel and the thrill ride was over.

We spent another 30 minutes with the dogs as other guests took their tours.  The dogs were very excited, but once the sled left a calm silence came over the kennel until another sled could be seen coming out of the trees and chaos would erupt.

The dogs were so friendly we wanted to take one home.

While in Fairbanks we had dinner with Tim and Mary who are old friends of Peter’s.  They live in a cabin with limited utilities, which was an interesting lifestyle to learn about.  They had a lot of stories and experiences and it was intriguing to meeting someone who walks the talk even if it isn’t the easiest when living in one of the coldest cities in Alaska.  Their do-it-yourself attitude and accomplishments were inspiring and got us excited about our future house even though we know we’ll never sacrifice as many creature comforts.

After about two days hanging out it Fairbanks, we headed to Chena Hot Springs to get away from the city for one last chance to see the Northern Lights.  We decided to give it our best shot by taking a snow cat tour to the top of a nearby mountain/hill to wait for the phenomenon.

Riding in a snow cat is loud and uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to get there.  After spending an hour or so in a heated Yurt drinking cider and hot chocolate, we heard some excitement outside as the northern lights started to appear.

It was just a trace of a greenish cloud and could easily have been mistaken for a wisp of regular clouds.  The camera picked up the green much better than your eyes could.  The full moon didn’t help either.

 Canon 7D, Sigma 17mm, f/2.8, 8 sec, ISO 400

We were hoping for more colors, but we’ll take what we can get.  It was 10 degrees outside so when after 30 minutes the Aurora faded, we went back into the Yurt to stay warm. We were definitely glad that we did the late night tour because we probably would have missed seeing them otherwise. But we still would love to see them in the future in more glory. A good reason to return another year!

During the day back at the resort we took a short dip in the outdoor hot springs, which felt good in the freezing temperatures, except your wet head above water gets pretty cold.  The resort has gained popularity in Japan, so much so that there are direct flights from Tokyo to Fairbanks.

We had a couple hours before we left for the airport to explore the Ice Sculpture World Championship in Fairbanks.

Love in Motion, 1st Place, Single Block, Realistic

Imagine Dragons, Multi Block, Realistic

There was also a lot of scuptures for kids to playing on along with a couple ice slides!

Katharine Needed a Sled

It was a fun way to end the trip. After spending 10 days in sub-freezing temperatures, 8 flights, 1,592 photos we were ready to unthaw and hopeful for warmer weather back home, but we were greeted with similar temperatures when we arrived in Philadelphia. Longest winter ever, we are so glad that Spring has finally arrived now!

We’ve heard many stories about the harsh Alaska winters, abundant wildlife, and many other adventures from Peter, Katharine’s uncle, who lives in Nome, AK.  We had a great time on our honeymoon in Alaska in the summer of 2011, but we always wanted to go back to experience the winter season, so we decided to make a trip of it! We planned for a few days in Nome and a few days in Fairbanks.  Of course if you’re going to Nome in the winter/spring, you have to see the finish of the Last Great Race, the Iditarod!  The 1,000+ mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome can take anywhere from 9-15 days because of the harsh and changing weather.  After 3 flights and ~18 hours of traveling we arrived in Nome on Sunday (3/9) greeted by Peter in a small 1 room airport.


Peter gave us a great tour of the small Bearing Sea costal town with a population of 3,600.  While driving around the town we kept our eye open for musk ox.  We found a small herd grazing on the outskirts of town. They were grazing and butting heads as we walked from our car.


When they feel threatened they gather together and stand their ground to protect their young.  This of course doesn’t work too well against hunters.


This winter was unusually warm and they had gotten a lot less snow than normal.  As we listened to the Iditarod reports we continued to hear about injuries due to the icy and rocky conditions on the trail and Nome was no exception.  We were able to drive 25 miles east on the Nome-Council Rd along the shore to the Safety Roadhouse checkpoint, which is normally only accessible by snowcat, snow machine, or helicopter.  With the mushers (dog sled racers) still a couple days away, the place was deserted.


 Safety Roadhouse, the last checkpoint of the Iditarod

Looking Across Safety Sound

Looking Across the Bearing Sea Ice

Even though it was clear and sunny, it was nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit, and the brisk wind kept us from venturing outside the car for more than a couple minutes.  As the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up, we decided it was too risky to attempt anymore trips to the Safety Roadhouse. Drifting snow could block the roads in a matter of minutes and the harsh conditions could be deadly without any means of communication.

We decided to spend Monday exploring Nome, souvenir shopping, and watching last minute construction of the snow chute to the burled arch finish line.

This pretty white snow was trucked in that day

We also took in some of the local activities such as the craft fair, snow sculpting contest, and local eateries.  We also noticed as the finishers got closer, the town’s population grew with tourists, mushing support teams, and even a couple (low profile) celebrities including Ariel Tweto from Flying Wild Alaska and Wipeout.

We downloaded the Iditrod GPS app on our iPad to monitor the mushers progress from the checkpoints Elim, White Mountain, and Safety, as well as the final leg on the way to Nome.  There’s a mandatory 8 hour layover in White Mountain and then it’s just 77 miles to Nome.  Since they were traveling at ~7 mph, we figured once they left White Mountain it would be another 11 hours before they reached the finish line in Nome.  So we followed the top three racers over the next 24 hours:

  • Jeff King, 4-time Iditarod winner
  • Aliy Zirkle, Runner-up last two years, our favorite
  • Dallas Seavey, Last years champ

The following is our account of the Iditarod drama leading to the finish…

Monday 3:00 PM

Jeff King leaves White Mountain rested with a 1 hour lead on Aliy.  It seems like another 2nd place finish for Aliy as we watch her GPS marker leave White Mountain and both Jeff and Aliy progress toward Safety with a consistent gap.  They have 77 miles to go and are expected in Nome around 2am. Dallas is still under the mandatory 8 hour layover and can’t leave for another 3 hours. Peter warns us that it’s still anyone’s race, but everyone seems pretty sure Jeff will win it again this year.

9:30 PM

The sun has set and the winds are picking up.  The official race website is reporting 45 mph winds pushing the temperatures around -40F.  Jeff continues to lead Aliy, but his marker has momentarily stopped.  Dallas has also left White Mountain, but is almost 2 hours behind Aliy.

10:00 PM

Something is wrong with Jeff or his GPS is updating because his dot isn’t moving and Aliy is gaining as he sits just a couple miles from Safety.  We continue updating the app hoping he and his dogs are okay, but also excited about Aliy’s possible comeback.

11:00 PM

They announce Aliy has officially passed Jeff and it’s not a GPS error.  Aliy is the first to check into Safety, but is clearly stopping until the winds die down. The officials are clocking winds at 70+ mph at the Safety check point 22 miles outside of Nome.  With Aliy waiting for the winds and Jeff pinned down we decided to go to sleep and wakeup around 2:00 AM.

2:00 AM

Jeff has officially scratched after flagging down a snow machine for help.  His dogs we’re tangled in drift wood and he wasn’t able to get the organized and back on the trail in the strong wind.  In more surprising news, Dallas checked in and out of Safety at 1:16.  Aliy left in pursuit 14 minutes later.  With still 22 miles to Nome we decided to get another hour of sleep.

3:20 AM

Aliy is gaining on Dallas and they are within a mile of each other.  We slowly get out of bed layering clothes for the brutal temperatures.  We wonder if they can even see each other out there? Does Dallas know how close Aliy is?  With the drifting snow, maybe he doesn’t know.  We eventually get out the door and drive 5 minutes and park just off the finish line.

3:55 AM

We can hear the crowd yelling and cheering as we shuffle across the polished icy roads.  Not knowing where the finishers are we run along side the crowds of people lining the chute looking to see if anyone has finished.  Then the announcer yells out Dallas has just come off the ice and onto the street! We fight for place at the rope and look down the street.  The crowd begins to cheer and suddenly we see a team of dogs trotting across the snow and Dallas running along side.

Dallas Seavey

The crowd goes wild and the rope can’t hold the people back as they surround the chute and the 2014 Iditrod champion is named Dallas Seavey!  A couple minutes after the announcer yells and there’s Aliy!  Now the crowd really errupts with cheers.  The officials string out the rope holding the fans back and soon another dog team passes and a smiling Aliy high-fives fans as she glides to the finish line.  It seemed like everyone was rooting for Aliy, ourselves included, hoping she could avoid another 2nd place finish. She was a good sport and spent a lot of time with the fans and taking care of her dogs before she left the chute to get some much needed rest and probably think over her strategy and decision to wait at Safety.

Aliy’s Finish

Kids leading the way for Aliy’s dogs after the finish

We left and went back to Peter’s thinking of the agony she must be in missing 1st place by just minutes because she decided to wait.  She was 12 minutes faster over the last 22 miles, but didn’t have enough distance to overtake Dallas.  Dallas however was exhausted and didn’t even realize he was the first to leave Safety.  He thought Aliy’s light behind him was his father in 4th and his goal was not to lose to his father.  He was shocked to find out he was the winner.  We were still amazed how a 8 day race could finish with just minutes between 1st and 2nd.  Peter was right, it really was anyone’s race.  White Mountain to Nome is 77 miles of unpredictable terrain and weather, and it can often allow last minute lead changes.

We spent the next couple days tracking mushers as they left Safety Checkpoint, headed for Nome, so that we could meet them along the trail. The Nome-Council road follows the trail for several miles, so it was easy to drive a little ways out of town and wait in the warm car to see them racing across the open tundra or sea ice. As they’d pass we’d cheer them on and take photos, then we’d drive a little ways farther, leap frogging past them, to repeat the cheers and photos. This way we were able to see each musher 3 to 4 times as they headed into Nome.

Sonny Linder (5th Place)

Sonny on the Bearing Sea Ice

The conditions changed rapidly from hour to hour and depending on the location of the trail.  Some mushers fought whiteout conditions with drifting snow.

Martin Buser (6th Place)

They all had to cross the wind polished sea ice which we saw many mushers slide, fall, and dogs stuggle to maintain any traction.

After they went through the final check at the finish line the dogs were given treats and the mushers were greeted by family and friends.

In the chaos some clever dogs stole some extra treats

The dogs also go through routine vet checks throughout the race including the end.

The dogs then get to rest on straw beds until they are flown home.

While waiting for other finishers we also walked out on the sea ice.  It was slippery and you can see the buckling effects of the strong winds and moving tides beneath the surface.

We also watched migratory buntings outside of Peter’s house and even caught a glimpse of a fox.

Jessie Royer (7th Place)

Somehow the sea ice seemed particularly slippery as Jessie came across. Nathan had gone down to the ice to get some different perspective shots of the dog team, and as Jessie headed towards Nathan, they both struggled to gain traction on the ice. A couple minutes of hilarity ensued as Nathan slipped on the ice had to crawl out of the way as Jessie’s dog sled team slipped and slid just several feet from Nathan.

Nathan was extremely embarrassed, only moment ago voicing his concern for the possibility of slipping on the ice and getting tangled with a dog sled team.

Hans Gatt (9th Place)

At this time of year there was about 12 hours of daylight from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm.  We could hear the air raid sirens sound throughout the night and morning as the mushers approached Nome, but sadly it was hard to get motivated when you knew it was dark out and they would be hard to photograph.

Robert Sorlie (21st Place)

We also learned there are actually several races that use the Iditarod trail including a bicycle race.  They started a week before the dog sled teams, but they are clearly crazier.

They had signs of frost bite and open cuts on their faces after falling many times. They said the winds and drift conditions were the worst between Safety and Nome and they had fallen over the handle bars into the drifts multiple times. We also heard there were people running the 1,000 mile race, but we didn’t see any runners finish.

The last night we had an incredible king crab feast with Peter. It doesn’t come much fresher than being caught right out of the Bearing Sea.  We cooked 2 huge crabs giving us each almost 1.5 lb of delicious crab meat!

The last morning after we dropped our bags off at the airport we watched one more musher arrive.

Kristy Berington (30th place)

After the first 10 finishers Nome starts getting back to normal and the crowds die down and sometimes you forget there’s even a race happening.  We saw dog sled teams weaving around traffic down Front Street as they made their way to the arch.

Like most finishers their faces were frozen, but they were happy to be done.  Kristy’s eyelashes even had ice coating them.

Musher’s Mascara

We were to be able to borrow a car from Peter and Jean, which allowed us to greet and follow the mushers into Nome.  We also were thankful for the fur hats they lent us which by far out-performed any synthetic hat we had brought.

It was an incredible 4 day experience.  We have a greater respect for people who enjoy living in Nome and it was great fun to watch the Iditarod finishers, but we were out of time and off to Fairbanks!

We couldn’t include all the photos in our post so check out the rest below.

Well that’s it, the photos have been sorted through, the stories archived, and the trip reports finally published!  We hope you all enjoyed following our stories and adventures.  It was a truly a trip of a lifetime, and we are so glad we had the opportunity to take some time off and make it happen.

Over the course of our 70 day trip, we drove 10,502 miles through 18 states, which averages to about 150 miles per day. But there were a lot of days that we didn’t drive at all (or only from our campground to a trailhead), and there were only 6 days that we spent all day driving (without any fun stops). We took 12,638 photos and Nathan basically looked at every single one. He narrowed it down to about 1,080 that were edited and posted to the website.

We visited 15 National Parks (10 of which we had never been to before): Pinnacles, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Basin, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Hot Springs. We hiked 239 miles on 44 days of the trip. We did 6 backpacks, all of which were spectacular and top highlights of our trip. We camped almost half the time (which saved us a lot of money), spending 33 nights in a tent, 24 nights in a hotel, and 13 nights staying with family.

We saw some of the best views and natural wonders in the western US including waterfalls, caves, geysers and mudpots, mountains, valleys, canyons, beaches, forests, glaciers, alpine lakes, granite cliffs, red sandstone walls, volcanoes, and more.

We saw all kinds of wildlife including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, marmots, pika, foxes, coyotes, quail, turkey, grouse, rattlesnakes, banana slugs, sea stars, sea anemones, tarantulas, and scorpions.

We had a lot of good luck on the trip including great weather pretty much the entire time except in Washington (what else would you expect?) and of course the snow that surprised us in the Tetons. Our car (Subaru Outback) never broke down or caused us any major trouble, although we did do some maintenance along the way including an oil change, new headlights, and new tires.

The trip took a lot of planning to design the itinerary, get hiking permits, make campground reservations, and coordinate with family and friends (Katharine spent 8 months pretty obsessed with every detail). In the end, we don’t think there’s much we would have changed, except maybe making it longer and doing more backpacking!


Our route


After we finished our trip, we got a lot of questions about our favorite parts, parks, adventures, etc. It’s really impossible to pick, but here are a few highlights.

Favorite National Park – This one is really hard to pick. We think maybe Glacier, since it was our first time there, and it had it ‘all’ – wildlife encounters, amazing hiking, beautiful mountain views, glaciers and glacial lakes, rugged terrain… all without excessive crowds. We can’t wait to go back and do some backpacking!

Glacier National Park

Favorite backpack – Another tough choice. Our 4 day backpack on the Teton Crest Trail was definitely the most adventurous since it hailed or snowed every single day. On the other hand, Zion Narrows was just incredibly beautiful, and it was such a unique experience to hike down a river through the stunning canyon.

Snow on the Teton Crest Trail

Virgin Narrows, Zion National Park

Favorite hike – See above. Although we did some great day hikes, our backpacks were definitely the highlight.

Best wildlife encounter – Up close and personal with the bighorn sheep of Glacier NP.


Best sunset – Camping on Shi Shi beach in Olympic National Park.


Scariest part – Climbing the cables on Half Dome definitely took a lot of concentration, and there’s no question it’s scary. But we were mentally prepared for Half Dome… whereas when Nathan had to slide to a stop to avoid stepping on a rattlesnake, the surprise and and quickness of it got our adrenalin pumping. Luckily he was safe, but we knew a rattlesnake bite when we were miles from help is no joke. Since those both occurred on our backpack through Yosemite, that must make it the scariest backpacking trip we’ve done!

Half Dome Cables, Yosemite National Park

Best unplanned stop – Definitely the balloon glow at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. A complete coincidence that we were there at the right time, but it was amazing.


Favorite hike not in a National Park – While we didn’t do too many of these, there were a few good contenders. But Havasupai was by far our favorite.

Beaver Falls, Havasupai

Favorite city – We surprised to love Nashville so much, but its great food, whiskey, amazing live music, and friendly atmosphere totally charmed us.

Best story – The story of Stuart, the mouse that invaded our car and made us crazy, is probably one of our favorites to tell.

Biggest disappointment – Overall our trip went really smoothly with very few issues, but we were definitely disappointed that the federal government shutdown made us miss 6 additional National Parks (Petrified Forest, Saguaro, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mts, Carlsbad Caverns, and Mammoth Cave). Guess we’ll just have to do another trip!

Least favorite part – Two contenders for this: Having to deal with a walk-in campsite and the frustrating park shuttle in Yosemite after our brutal descent down the Mist trail… we were completely exhausted (physically and mentally) and just not up to extra mile or so of walking or the logistics of setting up our campsite far away from our car. We learned from that mistake and from then on always booked a hotel for the night after finishing a backpack. The other least favorite part was having to do estimated tax returns on the trip… taxes are never fun, and we just did not feel like dealing with life’s realities while on our trip.

And to end with something a little more upbeat…

Favorite Photo – This would truly be impossible to pick. Even trying to choose our favorite landscape, wildlife photo, portrait, action photo etc would be too hard. Instead, we can just say that Zion Narrows was our favorite place to take photos… it felt like around every bend in the river we came upon another amazing and unique scene that we just had to capture.


So that’s a final look back at our trip… we knew as we started planning that it would be ‘epic’ and it certainly did not disappoint!

Of course if you are family, friend, or just follow our blog, you know this won’t be our last adventure.  Next weekend we’re off to Alaska to greet the finishers of the Iditarod in Nome and hopefully see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks!

For a little fun, here’s a look at how we loaded up our car pretty much every day on the trip… it took careful organization to get it all to fit! 

For the final days of our trip, we had to cover a lot of mileage, but we still managed to fit in a few interesting stops along the way.

Day 65: Amarillo, TX to Host Springs, AR (10/7)

We spent the day driving 568 miles east across the pan handle of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  The drive and scenery were uneventful.

Day 66: Hot Springs National Park, AR to Nashville, TN (10/8)

Hot Springs National Park is essentially main street in Hot Springs.  It is a row of bath houses that draw on the natural springs in the area and were once very popular in the 1800’s before modern medicine.



The many springs in the area are combined into one supply producing over 750,000 gallons per day.  The water temperature is about 143F and is potable without additional filtering and is publicly available at several fountains.


We tried some of the water, but because it was so hot it took a while to cool off.  We spent the day walking up and down the main street, but weren’t able to explore the visitor center / museum because the federal government was still shutdown. The privately-run bath houses were open, so Katharine was able to try one of the traditional treatments. It was an interesting experience, but not something she’d want to do on a regular basis.

Overall, Hot Springs was definitely our least favorite National Park, which is not surprising given that it really seems like it should be a National Historical Site. After a few hours we were ready to leave Arkansas and head to Tennessee. We decided what better place to stop for BBQ than in Memphis.  We ended up at Corky’s BBQ, which did not disappoint.  We ate a full rack of baby back ribs along with hushpuppies, baked beans, coleslaw and pie for dessert.  Not only was the food amazing, the prices were low, and the, service was prompt, humorous and refreshing.  We knew our trip was on the right track again as we left for Nashville

Day 67: Tennessee (10/9)

Considering Nathan enjoys the occasional Jack and Coke what better place to visit than Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, TN.  It’s about 90 minutes outside of Nashville, but it’s a beautiful drive through the Tennessee country side, which was dotted with well maintained horse farms.

We didn’t know much about how Tennessee sipping whiskey was made until after our extensive, entertaining and educational tour. Our guide, Jason, took us through the process and history of Jack Daniels from the original iron-free cave spring water that is still used today to the building that houses the barrels of whiskey.

The tour was memorable and we still try to impersonate Jason and his Tennessee accent while saying “Our whisky mellows through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal, because we aren’t making bourbon here… we’re making Tennessee sipping whiskey”.


The amount of history you learn on one of their tours is amazing.  You can’t take pictures inside their distillery, but you can outside where they make their own charcoal.

Only famous people get to sign the walls.


They also still have an REO speed wagon, which was once part of their on-site fire department.


You also learn about Jack’s stubbornness to go to the doctor after kicking his safe, which would later lead to his death.


At the end of the tour, we enjoyed a small tasting of different varieties of JD whiskey. We are now loyal Jack Daniel’s customers and whenever we order whiskey we think of our visit to Lynchburg.


We then headed back to Nashville and stood in line outside the Bluebird Cafe.  For those of you into country music (or watch the TV show Nashville) you know the Bluebird is a well known cafe/ bar where musicians like to frequent to try new music and play in a round.  This unique style puts the musicians in the middle of the room while everyone else enjoys dinner and drinks along the outside, but it is a small and cozy space only fitting a hundred people or so.  We enjoyed the evening listening to Pam Rose, Lisa Carver, Liz Rose and Jill Johnson.  They sang some of their old classics while trying out some new songs.  It was refreshing to see four talented women singing and playing acoustically for fun instead of large scale produced concert.  We loved the experience and hope to find more opportunities to hear live music in a small setting.


Day 68: Louisville, KY (10/10)

The next morning we drove 175 miles north to Louisville, KY.  The original plan was to visit Mammoth Caves National Park, but with the government still shutdown, we enjoyed an afternoon walk along the waterfront of the Ohio River.


Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park

It was a perfect day for a walk as we strolled across a old rail bridge that was refurbished into a pedestrian bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio.  The renovations weren’t quite finished so we couldn’t step foot in Ohio to add another state to our list.



We enjoyed some fine dinning and Kentucky bourbon while we reflected on the trip as it neared the end.


Day 69-70: Natural Bridge State Park, KY to Pennsylvania (10/11-10/12)

We drove 130 miles from Louisville to Natural Bridge State Resort Park where we took a ski lift and a short hike to see the unusual rock formation.

Under the Natural Bridge

 On Top of the Natural Bridge Looking Toward Lookout Point

The hike was short since we had to get back on the road.  We then drove 600 miles through Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and a corner of Pennsylvania!  We arrived late that night / early the next morning completing the Epic Trip just in time for Will’s (our nephew) 1st birthday party! 

It was crazy to think that the trip was finally over… luckily our photos and memories will last a lifetime!

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